Brenda Ramos is not broken.
She strains in a chair in her South Austin home, adjusting the pain-relief pads just below her shoulder, displacing the rosary she's been keeping around her neck since her son, Mike, died. She's surrounded by sympathy cards and flowers. A crucifix reads, "I am with you."
She popped four bones in her back, she jokes. She hasn't eaten. Her family almost took her to the emergency room days before.
Her son's death, along with the killings of other black people by police, has started a movement. She says his death hasn't broken her, but the stress of it – the seemingly symbolic weight of all this – has manifested physically.
Still, it hasn't broken her body as much as it's broken her heart. Now, she hopes his death will lead to institutional change at the Austin Police Department – change that would mean nobody else would have to suffer what she's gone through.
Days before, she told reporters she'd lost her "only one" – her only child. She's part of a club now, she said, part of a "broken heart club" for those who have had a loved one killed by police.
But with the pain of losing her 42-year-old son, she's also marshaled a resolve.
She's calling on APD to fire Officer Christopher Taylor, who killed her son, and for the department to institute a policy that prohibits any officer from being out on the street after using lethal force. Taylor and another officer shot at a man having a mental health crisis less than a year ago, killing him.
Ultimately, Ramos said she wants Taylor prosecuted.
"Nobody doesn't have to go through that – nobody! To me, that's just murder. Why's he out still in the street? He killed somebody nine months ago, and he's still working in the street? That tells you a lot," she said.
Mike Ramos did things people didn't want to do – or, at the very least, things people avoided doing – things like taking out the trash, his mother recalls.
Having finished a gauntlet of interviews about her son's death, she catches her breath. She wants people to know him as a big-hearted person – and how that was evident when he was a kid growing up in South Austin. She wants people to know about when he used to sneak out to go to school at Becker Elementary when he was sick; about when he literally gave his shirt to a homeless Austinite outside the Goodwill Store on South Lamar on a cold winter night; about how he'd clean – a lot – without asking.
"It didn't bother him! I had a friend here. She was sitting down, she said, 'You know, I have to tell my son to take out the trash?' They saw my son go take the trash out, and she was like [gasp], you know?" she says. "And I said, 'I don't have to tell him. He knows.' I raised my son good."
But he wasn't raised alone, Ramos adds.
He used to spend time at the old Boys and Girls Club on Johanna Street in South Austin and first met Coach Jerry Bell when he was trying out for the Devil Dogs.
Bell says Ramos barely made the cut for the basketball team back in the '80s, and he didn't have the most talent, but he wanted to be the starting small forward.
"So I said, 'OK, prove it to me.' And over the next three weeks he worked really, really hard and by mid-season he was a starter," Bell says. "If he said he was going to do something, he would do it."
And, Bell says, he'd offer help, again, without asking.
"While other kids were ready to run out and go do whatever they wanted to do, Mike would help me clean the gym, sweep the floor – you know, whatever I needed him to do," he says. "He would do it without asking."
The two kept in touch, bumping into each other every now and then. A few years back, Bell says, he saw Ramos at a store. He told Bell how much the team meant to him – that it made a difference in his life.
When Bell heard about Ramos' death, it hurt him. Ramos was one of his kids.
"I was very hurt, disappointed. ... I consider all those guys my kids," he said. "Although, Mike's 40 years old now, you know, to me, he's one of my kids."
Brenda Ramos struggles to go outside these days. In her backyard is an unattended grill, a grill she pictures her son in front of, barbecuing before a Longhorns football game. In front are three rose bushes he planted after her mother's death. He ran a gardening business with a friend when he was killed.
But Ramos isn't a shut-in. She joined thousands Sunday for a rally and march hosted by the Austin Justice Coalition. The peacefulness of that protest ran counter to the message of the self-described militant group that's co-opted her son's name, the Mike Ramos Brigade.
She says she doesn't need the further stress associated with the group, which has been accused of inciting violence. Ramos says she wishes violent demonstrators would focus more on having a conversation about reforming APD, and she hopes Austin as a whole takes a hold of this moment to reflect and reform.
She told the Austin City Council as much at their meeting on Thursday, saying her son "did not deserve a death sentence."
Bell says part of that discussion should center on Austin reallocating money from APD to after-school programs and outreach programs – that the city should better invest in communities of color.
"I think the situation with Mike and George [Floyd] and some of the other African Americans that have been killed by police officers have really put a light on how important it is to provide programs to youth prior to their teenage years, their formative years," Bell says. "I think it's very important that we channel some of that money to those programs."
Ramos understands the anger surrounding all of this too well, but she says she hopes conflicting agendas don't get in the way of meaningful change.
"Nothing's been done. And that's why I think all the people now ... now's the time to do this, and [police violence has] got to be stopped," she says. "It's been happening way too long, and we all need to come together and make a change."
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