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Tacomans Hold A Vigil For Manuel Ellis Who Died In Police Custody

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

In Tacoma, Wash., the name Manuel Ellis has become a rallying cry at protests against police brutality and racism. Ellis, who was black, died of respiratory arrest in March while restrained by police. Will James from member station KNKX reports.

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WILL JAMES, BYLINE: Hundreds of people gathered for a vigil last night marking three months since Ellis' death. It was at the street corner where police restrained him after what they say was an altercation. Marcia Carter-Patterson is Ellis' mother.

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MARCIA CARTER-PATTERSON: I just want you all to know that he was a blessed child. He was good and did not deserve to be murdered at the hands of the police.

JAMES: Tacoma police say that on March 3, they saw Ellis trying to open the doors of occupied vehicles, and when they approached, he became combative. The family questions the police narrative of the encounter. The four officers involved have been placed on administrative leave while the sheriff's department prepares a final report on Ellis' death. The medical examiner says the cause was respiratory arrest due to physical restraint. Family members have watched attention to the case grow along with the nationwide protests sparked by George Floyd's death in Minneapolis. Monet Carter-Mixon is Ellis' sister.

MONET CARTER-MIXON: Not just in Tacoma, not just in Seattle, not just in Washington, the whole globe is going to know about Manuel Ellis.

JAMES: Tacoma police say they regret Ellis lost his life under these circumstances. Activists set the vigil called for the officers to be fired and charged with crimes. But it was also a chance for family and neighbors to remember a 33-year-old father of two children known as a talented drummer and piano player. Tacoma resident Mu Knowles came looking for community.

MU KNOWLES: And to really just be with other black folks to be honest. Like, I'm really needing that right now during these moments. It feels good. It feels good to be with people that, you know, have similar experiences as you and people who are mourning and grieving just like you right now.

JAMES: Knowles says he wants justice for Ellis, but after more than a week of national focus on black people dying, it also felt nice just to grieve. For NPR News, I'm Will James in Tacoma.

(SOUNDBITE OF THIS WILL DESTROY YOU'S "THEY MOVE ON TRACKS OF NEVER-ENDING LIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.