An Open Letter to Black America: Korryn Gaines Caused Her Own Death



Among the latest cases involving alleged police brutality is a 23-year-old mother of 2 from Baltimore, Maryland killed by police on August 1, 2016. Korryn Gaines’ pictures adjoined with her very own hashtag, excerpts of her story, and familiar headlines bombarded the Internet drawing comparisons between Gaines and other recent victims of violence inflicted by police.

But this case is different.

Korryn Gaines frequently documented her encounters with police, posting videos to Instagram along with detailed captions explaining these instances from her perspective. She can be seen in a video below in which she is stopped for a traffic violation in March of this year. Ms. Gaines was stopped because she had no license plate on the vehicle she’d been driving. The car was also unregistered and uninsured. Officers asked her for identification multiple times to which she responded saying “I do not participate in any of you guys’ side laws and things like that. I don’t participate in that.”

The 20-minute video illustrates a number of red flags. Gaines’ two children were in the back seat, a 5-year-old boy and an infant babygirl. Throughout the video, Gaines is heard telling the 5-year-old to fight the police, urging him to be fearless, and repeatedly stating that she and her children were going to be kidnapped by the police.

The officers informed her that if she did not identify herself, she’d be arrested. The officer is heard telling Ms. Gaines “you have a child. Think. Think. Think.” Despite these warnings, she did not provide a driver’s license or registration for the vehicle. She then stated that the government took her tags as reason for driving illegally.

An eerie photo posted on Korryn Gaines' Instagram page, July 29, 2016.
An eerie photo posted on Korryn Gaines’ Instagram page, July 29, 2016.

Based on Ms. Gaines’ demeanor, the irrational behavior in the midst of her children, and multiple delusions, I would argue that Ms. Gaines had issues with mental health. Furthermore, the encounter with police that lead to her death sheds light on the overlooked issue.


The young woman uploaded a video to Instagram hours before her death which showed a SWAT officer standing by the door of her apartment. Gaines is seen loading rounds into a shotgun while asking her son “who’s outside and what are they trying to do?” Her son replied “trying to kill us.” During an hours-long standoff between the young woman and the police, she allegedly pointed the shotgun at the officers, setting off a sequence of events that would claim her life and leave her 5-year-old wounded.

This incident is overwhelmingly different from any other case deemed “police brutality,” because it is not police brutality.

Korryn Gaines’ death can not be pigeon-holed into one broad category simply to fit a narrative. Yet that is exactly what has been done! Even with substantial evidence of mental illness, mainstream media, blogs, vlogs, and the like are not saying what is blatantly apparent. Korryn Gaines committed suicide by cop. This is not a new phenomenon. It won’t fit the national narrative. And that is quite possibly why you won’t hear or see many considering this even as Gaines’ death is the first mainstream case involving police killing a civilian in which so much self-recorded footage is available for the public to assess. Why aren’t we looking at it constructively? Will doing so negate the fact that Korryn’s life could have been saved? Is it easier to hold cops accountable but shun the idea of holding anyone else accountable?

Korryn could have been your mother, your sister, your niece, your cousin, your friend. It is for this very reason that we should use this tragedy as a catalyst for an actual lesson learned. We’re missing the point and acknowledging the issue of mental illness and trauma in black communities doesn’t negate the fact that police brutality is an issue. It just isn’t THE issue in Korryn’s case. If the evidence she herself made available isn’t enough to convince us that mental illness is a real issue, a relevant issue, an issue that claimed her life, I’m not sure what will.

Korryn fired a shotgun at police with her son in her arm while family members plead with her to surrender. The overwhelming support for “something else” other than what actually is embodies the true state of Black America in 2016. We’d rather minimize a life to a hashtag than face the truth of the matter. If black lives matter, the entirety of black life must matter. Every facet. Every unresolved issue.

Author’s disclaimer: The term “mental illness” as used above, is not a specific medical diagnosis (i.e. Borderline Personality Disorder or Major Depressive Didorder) but a broad, opinionated statement regarding the deceased’s behavior displayed via video recording.





PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.



1 thought on “An Open Letter to Black America: Korryn Gaines Caused Her Own Death”

  1. “Smart and fearless?” Just based on the traffic stop she made a deliberate choice not to obey traffic laws THAT EXIST TO PROTECT PEOPLE. I take it you’ve never been hit be a car. I have. It sucks. We require drivers licenses and plates and insurance for a reason.

    Driving without a license plate and then telling the cops you just choose not to participate in obeying the laws is not smart and fearless, it is foolish and endangers other people on the street (well, the driving part, anyway.)

    Police misconduct is a very real issue; but that does not mean everytime police do something it is brutality. Sometimes, like when stopping someone driving in violation of the traffic laws, they are doing their job. Just like they were doing their job serving a bench warrant when she pointed a gun at them.

    I am sorry it ended in a shooting, but if you look at the whole thing this doesn’t appear to be police brutality, it appears to be the consequence of extremely bad choices, starting with flagrantly violating road laws, leading up to pointing a gun at the cops. My main disagreement with the author is I believe her choices were motivated by her ideology, not “mental illness”. Mental illness is easier to postulate, however, because then one doesn’t have to question the ideas and beliefs responsible — much like, for some commentators, it is easier to dismiss anything they disagree with as “racist” than examine the facts. Ultimately only Korryn Gaines knows what led her to act the way she did — including her assumption — which started at the simple traffic stop — that the police were out to kill her. It is as if she had to prove herself right by turning that fantasy into reality. It is sad, and a cautionary tale, but not police brutality.

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