Hidden Victims: How a Police Homicide Spreads Pain Throughout an Entire Family
In the latest installment of our hidden victims series, we talk to the family of Anthony Anderson and how they collectively suffered after he was killed by police officer who violently threw him to the ground
TAYA GRAHAM: In the next installment of our Hidden Victims series, we explore how an unjust killing by police reverberates throughout an entire family, and in doing so alters the lives of the women who care for them. The victim, Anthony Anderson, was walking across this vacant lot in East Baltimore when he was thrown violently to the ground by police in 2012. The officers claimed they saw Anderson purchase drugs. But it’s an area where residents say aggressive plainclothes officers called knockers predominate and act violently. One of them who spoke to us did not want us to show his face out of fear of retaliation by police.
Yeah, we call them knockers, too. You know, they’re still around. They just- they’ll show up, they’ll wait on a corner a distance away, maybe half a block away, four or five of them in a car. Maybe a repossessed car, or something like that. And then if they see you making a drug transaction or they see what they feel is a transaction being made, they’ll rush up there, and jump out of the car, and grab whoever doesn’t run. And you really don’t want to run from them, because you don’t want to get shot.
TAYA GRAHAM: Anderson was thrown to the ground with such extreme force he died from a ruptured spleen on the spot. His death was ruled a homicide, but then City State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein declined to press charges against the officers at the time. Bernstein said the actions of the officer and the use of force was justified.
A death at the hands of police of an unarmed African-American man not suspected of a violent crime is not an uncommon event in America. In 2017, police were three times as likely to kill an African American as a white person. Thirty percent of those victims were unarmed. In fact, like Anderson, in 2014 roughly two thirds of the African-Americans killed by police were not armed and were not suspected of a violent crime. And so Anderson’s family, like many others, was forced to suffer without recourse, which is where this story begins; not just with the loss of a family member, but against all odds it’s the story of love that a tragedy spawned.
MARCUS PETTIFORD: My father was a very energetic person. He can come into the room, and it could be a room full of sad faces or mad faces, and before he would leave everyone would have laughter on their face, or smiles. He just wanted everybody to, you know, not take life so seriously. And he just wanted everyone to, you know, just to be happy. And I feel as though he didn’t deserve what happened to him at all.
NICOLE PETTIFORD: Well, I never really got the chance to meet him. At the time I was pregnant with his grandchild, who later passed away due to the stress and the anxiety and the pain that I was going through, that my father in law was murdered for no apparent reason. They never actually told him the reason why they approached him from the beginning. They- it was cruel. It was heartless. It didn’t make any sense at all why they did what they did. And no human being deserves that. I love him through his son. I get to know him and acknowledge him through his son.
MARCUS PETTIFORD: He was preparing for my then-two-year-old niece’s birthday party, which was supposed to take place the very next day. So he went, so he went to the store. And as he was coming back across the lot he had shook [files] with one of his acquaintances. As he got near my grandmother’s house, they crept up behind him. They say that they said halt, police, stop. But he was on a cane, because he was preparing for bunion surgery. They told everyone he tried to run, which was very hard for someone on a cane, anyway. So they said they claimed they saw a hand-to-hand transaction between him and the acquaintance, but they never found anyone, you know, the so-called, did field interviews. And they never found anyone that can attest to their story.
As they crept behind him across the parking lot, one of the officers hoisted him over, over his head, and slammed him on his neck and head area. So right, right then and there he was already, he was already starting to die. You know, so they, they held him up. And he, one of the other officers basically bent himm over his knee to hold, to hold him up straight. And my grandmother, my brother, and my aunt, they all come rushing out of the house because I guess maybe somebody saw what was going on and they knew him, they knew my father, so they ran and told, told my grandmother what was going on, so they all came out there. So my grandmother’s like, what are you doing to my son? The exact words from one of the police officers, they said, back up before we do this do you.
Everything happens for a reason. Because at a time I was at work. I know if I was there, I probably would have died next to them too, because I wasn’t going to let them talk to my grandmother like that. I got a phone call, my sister was hysterical. She said, they killed Daddy, they killed him. I said, calm down, calm down, what’s going on? So I told my manager, I said, I need to take this phone call. Because I don’t know what’s going on. So I went outside. And she was like, they killed him. I said, who? I said, how do you know he died, how you know he’s dead? We saw it, like, the police, the police. That’s all she kept saying. She but she wouldn’t tell me the whole story. She just kept saying, the police, the police, the police.
So I immediately broke down. So I was like … and I was just sitting there. And you know, all my fellow employees came out there. You know, they saw me distraught. They said, what’s going on? I couldn’t talk. And my voice was gone. My manager was like, look, you need to go home. You’re not going to be able to focus. I was going to stay till the end of my shift, but they kind of begged me and pleaded with me, go home, take care of it.
NICOLE PETTIFORD: My husband doesn’t have any children. At all. It was a planned pregnancy. And I wanted another baby before I even met my husband. But that made it that much more special, to be with a man who wanted the same exact thing that I wanted. We actually found out that it was a little girl. You know, she was born. She lived for five minutes and then she passed away. We gave her a name. Her name was Natasha.
And Natasha, she loved her daddy. When he came in from work he would talk to my stomach. And she would move around and everything. He’s like, hey, what are you in there doing? And it’s like she heard her daddy. She knew that that was her daddy. And when he passed away it was such emptiness. It was such a sadness. And I’ve always known from experience that your baby feels what you feel. And she felt that emptiness. Like, mommy, daddy, your whole mood changed. You still talk to me, but I don’t feel the happiness, the love that I used to feel when you used to talk to me. And no matter how hard we tried to actually continue on with that love and what that spirit, it was really difficult because he was a part of us, and she was a part of us. And she was a part of him.
And the only way I can cope with it is that Natasha’s in heaven with Granddad. They are playing, they are loving each other, and they’re watching over us. And when she passed away, she died with her hand over it. And it was like she was telling me, Mommy, I’m okay. I’m going home now, I did what I was supposed to do, which was come here and to prepare you that I as going home with Granddad. That was the worst experience of my life, to have two people that I loved, and it didn’t matter that I never met him, I loved him, because that was my family. And I felt as though you robbed me of the chance to be with my family. You robbed me of the opportunity for my family to get to see the other part of my family. You destroyed us.
MARCUS PETTIFORD: For me, I’m healed from it, but it’s just kind of tough, you know, to wake up every morning and see his face all over again. So I never really will get a chance to forget, for lack of better words, because the mirror is a constant reminder. I’d have to get rid of all mirrors in the world not to, you know, get emotional every time, or think of him every time I see my reflection.
NICOLE PETTIFORD: I didn’t know how to console him at the time. I didn’t know what to say. There are no words to say. Sorry doesn’t cut it. And if is a very big word for it to only be two letters. If he hadn’t went to the store that day, would still be here? If he had turned around at the right time, would he still be here? That was terrible. If my husband had been there at that time, would that situation had happened? And I have to face this if word every day. For six years I had to constantly know in my mind, if, if, if.
MARCUS PETTIFORD: Everybody else basically has forgotten about him, so to speak. You know, they don’t do the rallies. You know, they don’t do the marches. You know, they don’t talk about him on social media, or anything like that. Every chance I get, you know, I try to keep his name out there.
NICOLE PETTIFORD: I love him with everything in me and more, because I know he feels the same way about me. You can tell somebody you love them all day, but this man shows me 24 hours a day how he feels about me. And I do the same for him. His pain is my pain. My pain is his pain. And God has it all planned out.