Illustrations by Erin Taj

My Unarmed Son Was Killed by Police

A father searches for meaning in the wake of a wrongful death

Money doesn’t bring a life back. It won’t bring back my son. In our case we got the satisfaction of a settlement but no admission of guilt; it was a hollow victory.

My son’s name was Flint Farmer. He was killed in June of 2011. He was 29 years old. He’d dropped out of high school when he was 16 and never went back; he worked odd jobs when he could find one. Growing up around here on the South Side of Chicago is a tough thing. There is a lot of crime. A lot of poverty and drugs and all the ills you find in a poor urban community. There isn’t a lot of opportunity for anyone. The police get called a lot. They make a lot of assumptions.

At the time, Flint was living in West Englewood with his baby’s mother. I always told him to leave that girl alone but he wouldn’t listen. His daughter was three. The mom had two other kids by somebody else. I don’t think she was a very good mother. She was always trouble. One time, during a domestic dispute, she called the cops on Flint and he went to jail.

The night he was killed, there was another domestic dispute, something about the kids. Flint had come home and they started beefing, a fight started, she called the cops at 2 a.m. I have to wonder what the police think when they head out to a call, especially in these neighborhoods. I’m sure they are scared, but it doesn’t make it right to kill unarmed people.

When the Chicago cops arrived, Flint fled the house — he didn’t want to go to jail again behind that woman. The cops chased him and caught up about a block away. According to the official report, Flint pulled out a burgundy cellphone and pointed it at the police officer, Gildaro Sierra.

Sierra, 33, was an 11 year veteran of the force. He emptied his weapon, a Sig Sauer semi-automatic — 16 rounds, in two separate bursts. A patrol car that rolled up during the brief confrontation captured video of Officer Sierra in the moments after he started shooting. Flint was down on the ground, on his face, bleeding. I don’t know if he was even conscious. Officer Sierra walked around the body in a semicircle. Then he fired three more shots. It’s all on the video.

The coroner would later find that Flint was hit by seven bullets. The first four shots hit his midsection and his leg. The last three bullets entered his upper back and pierced his heart and lungs. Those, according to the ME’s ruling, were the fatal shots. That’s what killed him. According to the report, Flint would have survived the first four. The video was put online by the Chicago Tribune. It raised a lot of questions about whether the shooting was justified. It was the third shooting — the second fatal — by the same officer. Even if the officer felt unsafe, what was Flint gonna do to him lying face down on the ground bleeding?

Officer Sierra later admitted he’d consumed “multiple” beers before he’d gone to work that night. According to documents later filed by my attorney, the city waited more than five hours after the incident to give him a breathalyzer test.

Even though the Chicago police ruled that the shooting was justified, everybody knew it was a wrongful death. We got an attorney and brought a civil suit. At the trial, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy testified. He even said the officer who shot my son shouldn’t have been on the streets that night. He later told the newspaper that he considered the case “a big problem.” That’s why the city decided to settle.

The attorneys were representing our side of the family, my wife and me. They were also representing the baby mother and Flint’s daughter. They agreed to a $4.1 million settlement. But the city and Officer Sierra didn’t have to admit they’d done anything wrong. There was no admission of wrongdoing. What kind of shit is that?

The only person who got any money was my grandbaby. They set up a trust fund for her. That’s the only good part of any of this — Flint’s daughter has some money for the future. But the rest of it was a hollow victory. Anybody who sees that video knows what happened: That cop assassinated my son. Killed him in cold blood. Lying there on his stomach in the street, how could he have been a threat?

Since then, I’ve been working to find justice for my son. Six months after Flint was killed, I joined the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. We’re the local branch of a national organization that started way back in the ’70s, pushing for the activist and Black Panther Angela Davis to be freed from her wrongful imprisonment in connection with the murder of a judge. Right now we are working to push through legislation in Chicago to create a Civilian Police Accountability Council.

As the system stands right now, the only people responsible for disciplining the police are the police themselves. Everybody knows that doesn’t work. Instead, we want to have members of the community overseeing the police. We want to make our law enforcement officers accountable to the people they are supposed to be serving. We are proposing an elected council of citizens who would stand in judgment of police crimes. You have to be real careful about who minds the candy store, so to speak. Not every cop is bad. I don’t believe that. And everyone who’s on the police force ain’t like the bad one who killed Flint. But when you do get a bad cop, there needs to be something in place to make sure they are punished. I don’t think the cops are in a very good position to judge their own.

As a preacher I felt blessed to be able to preach at Flint’s funeral. Afterward, one of the guys who knew me from growing up around the neighborhood came to talk to me. He said he couldn’t believe how well I was taking Flint’s murder, how well I was holding up, and how I was giving my faith to God. He said to me, “Back in the day, you probably woulda went after that police officer and gotten your revenge.”

I laughed when he said that because it was definitely true. Back then, I didn’t know no better. You look at the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and you realize: It don’t solve nothing to be angry and violent. It might make people feel better for a minute, but long term, it only makes things worse.

Now, because of my relationship with God, I am better able to cope. Flint’s death was not right. The whole situation was not fair. It was not just. But it happened because the Lord allowed it to happen. He’s in control of life and death — I believe that wholeheartedly. So the only thing I can do now is pray for Officer Sierra, and pray he turns his life over to Jesus, because if he don’t he’ll have an experience even worse than death. He’ll get justice on the other side.

— Emmett Farmer, as told to Ben Feldheim

Ben Feldheim is a writer in Chicago. Emmett Farmer is a travel consultant and activist.