Jamilia Land was 10 when an Oakland police officer pointed a gun at her and ordered her to shut up.
“When he did that, my father damn near lost his mind,” Ms. Land recalls of the long-ago incident.
She had witnessed the officer harassing her father. Once his ire turned on her, a tussle ensued between the two men and her father, Willie Elvin Land, was beaten with a baton.
“I remember how traumatic it was, seeing my father lay there on the ground just helpless and afraid,” she said. “That was the first time I had seen my father afraid. … It changed me.”
Today, Ms. Land is an outspoken advocate for families experiencing trauma related to violence and police-involved shootings. The fight for change and justice takes her to the streets and halls of government alike.
She is involved with numerous change coalitions. She’s the co-founder of ASAP (The Anti-Violence, Safety and Accountability Project). She started a nonprofit, Mind Change, to focus on the mental health and well-being of children impacted by police and community slayings, gun violence, and incarceration. She is also a board member of March On, which “mobilizes the masses to create political power.” In recent months, she and her husband teamed with Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager on ACA 3. Ms. Land is a member of the Abolish Slavery National Network and supported the police use-of-force reform legislation, AB 392.
Fighting for “the underdog” is a tradition adopted from her family.
“They provided for people who were less fortunate than them,” Ms. Land said. “They would stand up and they would speak up for people. Activism has just always been in here.”
She has gained recognition standing with families, consoling them, helping them navigate what happens next and, ultimately, to restore hope and faith.
Ms. Land said programs are being developed to empower community members with life skills so that those dealing with trauma might be able to process and channel their pain productively and not be consumed by it.
Ms. Land was thrust to the forefront after local father Stephon Clark was shot and killed by Sacramento police officers in his grandmother’s backyard in March 2018 after they mistook his cell phone for a gun during a foot pursuit. Her foster son was friends with Clark and he asked her to look out for Clark’s family because he was incarcerated.
Their pain is one she understands all too well.
“I lost six (people) – five nephews and a niece. My daughter-in-law. I lost three nephews within a six-month period. All gunned down in Oakland,” Ms. Land said.
“None of them made it to 20 years.”
Also, her great nephew, Na’Vaun Jackson, accidentally shot himself in the head in March 2019 after finding his mother’s boyfriend’s gun under a pillow. The child, who was four at the time, survived but still deals with physical repercussions.
“That type of violence has been normalized in my life, and in our society, so I’ve always spoken out. I’ve been outspoken since I was 6 or 7 years old,” Ms. Land said.
Having been raised to “feel like there was nothing I couldn’t do,” Ms. Land says she often feels like a 6-foot giant, rather than the petite woman she actually is. She says she’s often underestimated due to her height, skin tone and gender.
“Most of the time I’m very quiet when I show up in spaces,” she said, “but something happens when I open my mouth and start to talk.
“I get a reaction of one or two things and there isn’t any in between. Either people really love and appreciate and like me, or people are like, ‘Who does this b**ch think she is? Oh, she thinks she knows something. She thinks she’s smart.’
“I’ve been called everything – high yellow, redbone, stuck-up, sadiddy. For people who know me, they don’t underestimate me, but they are oftentimes surprised because I have so many different skill sets that I’ve acquired over my lifetime that, when necessary, I employ and that’s surprising to people. For the most part, people are confused by me.
“They don’t understand how and why I walk in so many different spaces. What people fail to realize is that all these things intersect, but we as a people, as a society, we have been psychologically indoctrinated with this belief system that we can only do one thing.”
Lending her face and voice to the cause, Ms. Land said, has made her target for law enforcement who don’t like her challenging their behavior and for community members who have called her a “traitor” and an “infiltrator” for working with law enforcement to create solutions. Folks are particularly pressed about a friendship she has developed with Sacramento’s Black police chief, Daniel Hahn. She and Chief Hahn united to bridge the gap and address some of the community’s concerns. In doing so, she points to his assigning a special officer to work with families and allowing access to body cam footage that provides answers for grieving families.
“We’re having a different understanding and a different conversation,” she said. “We can’t bring your loved one back; we’re not telling you not to be angry, but one of the things families often say is, ‘I can’t get any answers. Nobody’s telling me anything. I can’t get a police report. … At least I’m able to be the bridge to give these families that, but it’s definitely been a challenge.”
Last year was daunting for Ms. Land. She had COVID-19 twice, which she described as “hell,” and had to limit her activities. Some things, however, still brought her out of the house. While she was well, she took to the streets protesting the death of George Floyd and she became a spokesperson for the family of Dewayne James Jr. and Sa’Quan Reed James, the teenage brothers who were fatally shot while at Arden Fair Mall on Black Friday.
She also lost her beloved father to the coronavirus. She’ll continue working and fighting though, she says, because it’s what he taught her to do.
“He laced my boots real cold,” she said of his life lessons.
“I’m the last living Land. I really stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and I know that which I come from. As my grandmother used to say, ‘the stock which I’m made of.’ Taking that into the future is important to me.”
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
Sacramento OBSERVER introduces a special series, “Sistahs on the Frontlines,” acknowledging and highlighting the work that Black women are doing as “essential workers” on the frontlines, furthering the causes of the community. READ MORE