The words "Justice For" have been all too common in the past year and are often followed by a single name: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray. on Sunday, the small Mississippi town of Stonewall has yet another name to tack behind those leading, trending words: Jonathan Sanders. On July 8, the 39-year-old horse trainer was reportedly in a two-wheeled buggy pulled by his horse Diva in neighboring Lauderdale County he died in a confrontation with a police officer, according to The Guardian. Identified by the Associated Press as Kevin Herrington, the officer allegedly put Sanders in a 20-minute chokehold, during which Sanders repeatedly used the words "I can't breathe," The Guardian reported, the same words Garner infamously used last summer as a Long Island police officer held his head in a similar hold. So, who was Jonathan Sanders? And why is this story disturbingly close to one we've already heard?
According to The Guardian, while riding by, Sanders reportedly saw Herrington had pulled over an unidentified man at a gas station. Attorneys told The Guardian the driver was drunk and had expired tags. As he rode by, Sanders reportedly asked Herrington, "Why don't you leave that man alone?" The stopped driver claimed he then heard Herrington say, "I'm going to get that n*gger," and then took off in pursuit of Sanders.
Later, a person whom The Guardian cited as Witness 1, saw Sanders pull up to a nearby home. Sanders was wearing a headband flashlight. When Herrington approached, the witness said the horse spooked, throwing Sanders. His headlamp slipped around his neck.
The witness said that when Sanders ran to get the horse, Herrington grabbed him by the strap of his headlamp and yanked him to the ground. Witness 1, now joined by two more witnesses, saw Herrington holding Sanders in the chokehold position in the tall grass. One witness reportedly offered to get a breathing mask to help Sanders, who was apparently struggling to breathe, and Herrington allegedly refused the offer, according to the The Guardian. He claimed Sanders reached for his gun, though witnesses refuted that claim. Paramedics eventually arrived but were unable to revive Sanders.
The International Business Times reported Sanders had a criminal record that included domestic violence, traffic violations, and drug charges. He was also arrested for possessing cocaine in April. Herrington's attorney Bill Ready Jr. said Herrington found Sanders in possession of what he thought were illegal drugs. This allegation has not been proved, reported AL.com.
The Clarion-Ledger reported that mourners gathered in a standing-room-only ceremony at Family Life Center Church in Quitman, Mississippi, to remember Sanders' life. Friends remembered him as someone with affection for everyone he met. One family friend spoke of the high emotion at Sanders' memorial service, saying that attendees didn't have to be relatives of Sanders in order to feel the deep sorrow that accompanied his death.
When I came here, the family wasn't even here and tears were rolling down my eyes. I was like why am I crying? When you have a heart, this right here hurts you, you don't have to be family.
WTOK News reported that protestors gathered Sunday evening at a rally for Sanders and shouted phrases such as, "Hey, hey. Ho, ho. These killing cops have got to go!"
And though the day of Sanders' memorial service was a call for police reform, those mourning him had a chance to celebrate his life. Attendees of the memorial service, including Sanders' nephew, remembered him as a man with love in his heart for everyone, according to WTOK News:
My uncle loved everyone. Most of his life was made up of him loving others. That shows how unselfish he was.