Friday would have been Manuel Ellis’ 34th birthday.
“I was there when he was born,” Regina Ellis Burnett said of her nephew. “Unfortunately, I was not there when his life was taken. We’re here to celebrate.”
It’s been nearly six months since Ellis was killed by Tacoma police. A state investigation is underway, but the family says it’s not moving fast enough. They held a press conference Friday announcing their intent to sue the City of Tacoma for $30 million in damages. Attorney James Bible has filed a precursor to the lawsuit, known as a tort claim.
Following their renewed pleas for leaders to fire the officers involved in Ellis’ death, family and supporters gathered at South 11th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way for a birthday celebration. Activists, extended family and others from the community held a barbecue and danced while artists created a vibrant mural of Ellis.
“This is the first birthday his family is going to have to celebrate without him, but it’s not the last,” said Jamika Scott, with Tacoma Action Collective, the activist group that has organized around the Ellis family in recent months. “So, we just really wanted to find that time to bring people together and allow them to be here to support the family, come together as a community because these moments of joy and togetherness are what gets us through those really, really hard times.”
Elaine Simons joined Friday’s celebration. She’s the foster mother of Jesse Sarey, who was fatally shot by an Auburn police officer during an arrest last year. The officer, Jeff Nelson, has been charged with murder — the first time voter-approved Initiative 940 is being used to criminally prosecute an officer over use of force.
“I felt it was important as another impacted family member to come out in solidarity and show families that are on the frontline that we are here for you in support and solidarity,” Simons said. “The journey is not yours alone and many of us really need each other.”
Below are pictures of Friday’s celebration. The mural can be seen at 1012 S. 11th St. in Tacoma. Photos and quotes were gathered by Melissa Ponder.