By: Will Tarpley and Samuel Gomez
Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil Tuesday evening on the Denton courthouse lawn, held to remember the lives lost from police brutality, including the life of Darius Tarver, a UNT student killed by Denton Police in January.
During the vigil, Tarver’s mother, Froncella Reece, and older brother, Kevin Tarver Jr., addressed a crowd of about 350 people, who held candles and signs to show support.
“These last four months have been brutal for me,” Reece said. “I hadn’t been in Denton since my son passed on January 21, 2020. I went, a few hours before I came here, back to his apartment… just to feel his spirit again. It’s been tough, but I want to thank each and every one of y’all out here… fighting for justice for Darius Tarver. He was a good kid.”
Emotionally wrought, Tarver Jr. consoled his mother and began to speak about his own experiences with his younger brother and his fight to get justice for him.
“Even though I wasn’t going to school, I was doing the right things in my life,” Tarver Jr. said. “My little brother, he was following me in my footsteps. Working hard, just trying to be a better black man in this world. His life got taken away, way too soon. It didn’t have to be this way… they didn’t have to do that to him, you know?”
Tarver began to be emotionally overwhelmed with tears as he continued.
“I’m a strong black man, I push every day of my life,” Tarver Jr. said. “I never thought this was going to happen to my little brother . . . Enough is enough and we’re going to keep fighting for justice for my little brother. The cop’s [who killed him] still around here, doing what he’s doing. We don’t know where he’s at, we don’t have a name, we don’t have anything for him. We’re just tired of it. We’re going to keep fighting . . . Thank y’all for being out here for us.”
After they finished speaking, organizers Uduak Nkanga and Stephanie Chukwu gifted Tarver and Reece a wrapped bouquet of flowers and a hand-sketched portrait of Darius by local artist Ivan “IVY” Cruz.
Uduak Nkanga, who recently graduated from UNT this spring, organized the event with Stephnie Chukwu, who is graduating this fall. Nkanga said she wanted to bring the black community together and celebrate the lives of black people who have died.
“We wanted to give a mental break to the black community,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s okay for us to be spiritual and to have time for ourselves.”
Chukwu said the effort took a lot of coordinating and communicating with the community to make the vigil happen. She and Nkanga relied on social media and coordination between medics, the Denton Police Department and the family of Darius Tarver.
“None of this could have happened without the volunteers,” Nkanga said. “We used the power of social media in today’s age. We did it in a week and now we’re here.”
Two such attendees who also helped organize were 20-year-old respiratory therapy students at Midwestern State University Vanessa and Anisah, a 22-year-old merchandising student at UNT.
“I feel like . . . this is a peaceful way to send a message,” Vanessa said. “Especially this year, with the police brutality, we’ve seen a coming together of all races and I’ve really liked that, because that’s the point. We need to be all together and not have one live matter more than the others.”
“We’ve wanted this to be safe and peaceful and to just do a vigil to remember specific people, what they had and how they were killed by the police, “Anisah said.
Among the other speaking attendees were local activist Queen Janata Montgomery, who spoke on the issue of colorism within the black community, and another speaker who lost her brother to police violence.
“I just feel like with the social issues . . . it’s caused us to even act discriminatory towards each other in the black community,” Montgomery said. “ We separate ourselves from each other . . . light skin, brown, dark, darker than dark . . . that’s the way the system has separated us, within our people, to the point where our people don’t want to show up to encourage us to fight for financial and economic gain. We’ve lost our zeal, our economic drive.”
Nearing the conclusion of the event, Nkanga led the vigil in nearly nine minutes of silence – the amount of time then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin lethally knelt on George Floyd’s neck.
Closing everything out was 25-year Denton resident Katina Butler, who once more led the attendees in singing gospel, as harsh winds blew back trees and nearly knocked over a tripoded audio speaker.
“You know, it’s so beautiful to see my black brothers and sisters out here, especially because I know we’re tired.,” Butler said. “We’re tired.”
Featured Image: Denton locals hold candles and listen to a speech during a vigil held Tuesday evening on the Denton courthouse lawn. Darius Tarver’s mother and older brother spoke to the crowd to share their story and to honor his memory. Image by Samuel Gomez