Life after Police Violence: a Q&A with Daviri Wallace

I taught with Lavette Floyd for four years in my time living in New Orleans. I went to her masters graduation party and was able to briefly meet her three sons. While we worked together, Floyd lost two of her sons’ fathers to white men, who were never charged for their deadly encounters. At that time, Daviri Wallace was her only son that still had his biological father, Daviri Robertson. A year later, Daviri lost his father and an uncle, Chris Joseph, in 2019 when unidentified Jefferson Parish police officers opened fire on the car that Robertson and Joseph were in. With all the media attention on police brutality recently, Daviri (now 19 years old) wanted to tell his dad’s story, as well as his own. In this interview (conducted in the presence of his mother), Daviri talks about who his father and uncle were to him, the incident that took their lives, Jefferson Parish police, media representation, protests, and more.

I know your mom, but I don’t know much about you, so could you tell me a little about yourself?

Daviri Wallace: I was born in St. Bernard Projects, but I lived on the Westbank for a good bit of my early years. Then we moved to Chalmette, and I stayed there from like third grade all the way up to my senior year. Except for one year, when I moved to Texas for the first half of my senior year and I came back and graduated from Chalmette. I played basketball and ran track for like two years. Played basketball since the 8th grade. I am into clothes and fashion and things like that. That is a big thing for me now. I think I want to pursue a career in modeling, depending how things go.

That’s actually a lot of hobbies and goals. Thank you for sharing that. So, who was your father, before this incident?

DW: So my dad went to jail on my first birthday, when I just turned one. I would go visit him with my grandma but I don’t remember a lot of the visits. I only remember one. I remember him having glasses and he was just talking to me about a lot of stuff. But then he got out of jail when I turned seven, and my mom and grandma were all there. I just remember running to him, even though I didn’t really know him. I just remember full sprint running to him because that’s my dad. From that point, we just started to connect. We stayed in Texas for a few, and he stayed out there when I moved back. Then when he moved back down here, he got a house right down the street from where my mama stayed and I would go back and forth between the two. We built a strong relationship in the short time that I did know him. My dad, he was a giving person; like his life choices, they weren’t the best. He always said he’d wished he didn’t pursue the life that he did, but that still didn’t change his heart or the type of person that he was. You [would] always find him if somebody asked for something, he [would] always go out of his way to do it for them. If somebody needed money or something like that, even if he didn’t have it, he would find a way to get it and give it to them. He wouldn’t second guess it or ask for the money back because that was just the type of person he was. I think that kind of rubbed off on me. He really did turn into my best friend, because I would talk to him about anything. Because every weekend I would go by him, and we just be in the car, driving, having a long conversation about whatever. It could be sports, it could be life, it could be me going to school, it could be basketball, it could be anything.

Lavette Floyd: Awww, he was your favorite.

DW: I wouldn’t say he was my favorite. I can’t have a favorite. He was just that person to me that would listen to what I have to say.

The next question is a little heavier: what do you know happened in the exchange between the Jefferson Parish police and your father?

DW: They said it was supposed to be a whole drug deal that went bad. The person he was with was like my uncle, his name is Chris Joseph. They were together and they were supposed to be dealing drugs to a certain person. The police were in unmarked cars and they just looked like regular people. So they came up to the car and they pulled guns on them. I know that in my dad’s head—he is the type of person, and he is in that certain life—he didn’t know that they were police officers, so he just thought they were probably going to rob them or kill them. But they didn’t have guns or drugs in the car, so they didn’t have a need to act fast. The officers said that Chris tried to put the car in reverse and pull off. Then he struck an officer. But the car never moved, so they just started shooting up the car. They shot Chris five times; he died on the spot. One of the bullets went out of Chris and through my dad’s neck. It hit one of the officers on the other side of the car. My dad died on the operating table and the other officer was in critical condition. They said he pulled through.

I read the Fox 8 article of your dad and your Uncle Chris. In this story I know that they talk in depth about the criminal background of your uncle and your dad. Do you know if any other reports have even given any background information on the cops involved? Like any type of records or anything?

DW: No. We don’t even know their names.

I know that there was a civil case. Were there ever criminal charges brought against the officers?

DW: No ma’am.

Who has done an investigation?

DW: Paul Dudley, a [WWLTV] news reporter, has been investigating the case.

As far as the DA’s police investigation, that was all done through Jefferson Parish?

DW: Yes.

Do you know if the state has ever tried to open an investigation?

DW: No Ma’am.

So after the investigation, you still don’t know who the cops are that killed your dad?

DW: [shakes head no]

We have been hearing people wanting to defund the police and all of these situations recently. My question to you is if you had a choice in the outcome of justice for your father, what does that look like to you?

DW: I would say it would start with those police officers losing their jobs and being charged with, I think, probably second degree murder. They probably didn’t plan to kill them but they were shooting with the intent to kill… They should not be able to still be working at this point because you can’t just do stuff like that.

On the bigger scale with holding Jefferson Parish and the DA accountable, what does that look like to you, outside of just the officers?

DW: At first, releasing the names of the officers, because you have to show responsibility for your workers. Like these are the people that you hired, so if you hired people that do stuff like this, then your whole system has to be looked at. You have to take responsibility and be accountable for the people that you picked.

I know that you have been working with the NAACP of Jefferson Parish. I read an article that said they are working with five families who have also lost people to police homicide, too. Do you want to discuss the work that you guys are doing?

DW: They’re really just trying to get us together. It will make our cases stronger if we all present together because we are borderline the same case. So if we all just go to Jefferson Parish or the Sheriff’s department and really push, then they can’t really ignore it, because it’s multiple families that don’t really know each other. But it’s all around the same subject and the same type of murder and stuff like that.

LF: The investigator told me that it’s the same group of cops that has committed all of them.

The idea is that it is the same group of cops that committed all of these crimes?

DW: [shakes head yes]

Do you know about the Eric Harris case that happened a couple of years ago?

DW: I think I heard the name but I don’t know too much about the case.

So it’s literally the exact same thing that happened to your dad and uncle, but the crazy thing was that the Jefferson Parish police followed Harris and his girlfriend across the Orleans Parish line. And at that point Jefferson Parish police should have notified Orleans Parish police that they were entering their district with a high speed chase (or whatever was happening). So they cornered his car; they said he was backing up to run them over, and they shot him multiple times. His girlfriend, who was in the car, I think they arrested her and took her back to Jefferson Parish instead of having the NOPD arrest her.

DW: Yeah, it’s like Jefferson Parish—they run by its own set of rules, they don’t run by the city of New Orleans or the state of Louisiana. I don’t understand that. That whole force is not right. And people have been telling me—I’m not that old, but older people have been telling me that they have been doing stuff like that. This nothing new. They have been this corrupt.

So I feel there is a disconnect from New Orleans to Jefferson Parish at times, and there is a disconnect from the transplant and white community (which I am a part of), and the Black native community and the issues that happen with the police. So with that, what are some actions that people can take that are supportive to you, your father, and your family?

DW: If you read something that is completely one-sided, don’t just run with that story because you know that they are going to paint my dad to be a bad person because of the life he had chosen. But you gotta take it from someone who personally knew him and grew up with him that he was not that person at the time.

How were you notified about your father being killed? Can you tell us about that day and the emotions that you were feeling?

DW: I am in school, talking to my friends, and go to first period. I get a text from my cousin (he lives in Houston) that he loved me… my mind went to, ”Something must have happened to my grandmother. She must be in a bad condition,” or something like that… That day was a Friday; my dad usually comes to check me out around that time and we will usually go to Masjid-ur-Rahim. They call me down to check me out… I see my mom’s car. Oh, I thought, I  had a dentist appointment. So I go down, and as soon as I come down the stairs, I turn around and I see her crying… I just broke down and that was the hardest I ever cried, ever. All my friends came out of the classroom and were looking at me, and then they just started crying. It was a whole thing; the principal had to take me into his office. I was just asking what happened. She said he was killed by the police. I thought it was just him but she told me it was Chris too. I wouldn’t say that hurt me more, but it just added to it. It hit me hard… It was like the whole school was crying. I wouldn’t say that everybody knew my dad, but a bunch of people knew him because he would hang around. I had people that went to school with me and we had played AAU [basketball] together and he bought the whole team shoes for a tournament. There were ten of us. That type of impact he had on people, they felt like they knew him personally. It just hurt. He must have touched a lot of people.

I gathered myself, stopped crying, and I’m in a different zone and thinking in my head that my life is going to be completely different; I will never see my father again. I am just going to have to get used to it. I still haven’t completely gotten used to it… And then when I called my grandma and seeing her crying, I started crying again because she lost both of her sons in a span of three years. My second to oldest uncle and then my dad. That was too much for her to handle. I still pray for her because she lives all the way in Houston. My aunt is out there, but she lives by herself. I know that at night it hits her.

How does it feel when you read those articles or people ask you questions like this?

DW: It’s better for me to talk about it because if no one were to ever ask me questions I would just never talk about it and keep it in. I would just deal with it in my own head. I feel like it is much more productive to get the story out and to hear myself talk about it because it helps parts of me healing. Because if I can continue to talk about it, I can come to terms with it. I just feel like I will be in a better place. So I like stuff like this to get it out there and educate people on police brutality and stuff like that. And if it was to happen to them, just know that you are not the only person to deal with this… you don’t have to get down on yourself, or like no one understands because there are people out there who will most definitely understand this.

What is some advice you would give to someone younger than you, like 14 or 15 that lost their parent to police brutality?

DW: I have younger siblings, so like with them, they know who our dad was. I am thankful they got time to spend with him, so that no matter what anybody says about anything my dad did, you know who he was. So if you know who your father was then anything that they say about him shouldn’t bother you, if it is negative. If it is positive, you should take it in and reflect on it. But everything negative you shouldn’t even acknowledge it because that person didn’t know your father like you knew your father, no matter how long they were friends or whatever. It doesn’t matter because he was your father. You saw him almost every day. He was the one that fed you and stuff like that, so don’t give into the negativity.

You lost not just one but two people who were close to you. So just to clarify: was Chris a blood uncle or was he a friend of the family (both being equally important)?

DW: He was a friend of the family. Him and my father, they grew up together and they both did long stretches of jail. When my dad got out, he never went back. But with Chris, he kept going back. He would do a few years and then get out and then do a few years and then get out. But this last time that he got out, that was when I really started to build a relationship with him. The first time that I saw him, I remembered his face but I didn’t really know him. Right off the bat, we just had a type of playful relationship. He was like one of my friends. Just like how my dad was, that is how Chris was. We would always play the game together, do stuff like that. We would talk about basketball, we just do whatever. He would ride along with my dad. If there was an AAU tournament, he would be there. It was a whole thing. Again, I didn’t really know him for a long time, but it was that short amount of time that I did know him, he was a big part of my life.

Did he have a family as well or was he just a bachelor?

DW: He had a girlfriend and a few kids. I think he had five kids. I think he had the same amount as my dad, which was five kids.

Your dad had a big family, with your siblings and you, and was the caregiver and provider to your siblings and stepmom. So with him being gone, do you notice a financial and emotional impact on your family and your mom?

DW: That’s actually kind of funny because before he died, he was building a house that he was going to sell. They finished building it, and then they sold the house. And all five of us, we all got kind of big checks. I made this joke that even though he is gone he is still taking care of us, in a way. He left that for us as a source of money. But other than that I don’t think I have seen a big financial decrease because my stepmom, she works her job and she takes care of her three kids and then the rest of them, they had jobs before he had died so they now kind of have like an extra push. But I don’t think it was anything really serious because they were already providing for themselves before he couldn’t.

That’s crazy that your dad sold a house right before he passed away. Sometimes it is really weird how god or the universe works and does these really weird things. But I know that no amount of money is obviously going to bring your dad back.

DW: I always said that. Like when I had the money I was like, I would rather have him here. People are like, “Damn, you got money from him,” but I am not worried about the money. Money comes and it goes. That time I want to have with him, I’ll never get to have that time. It’s gone forever. It’s like all the money, it doesn’t matter.

What was your dad’s job?

DW: My dad had a landscaping business. He would cut grass and things like that. But then with that money, he would buy property and flip houses. So with that house that he bought, it was an abandoned house, and he built it up. He was doing that with most of the houses. I remember with one of the houses, he got arrested and he needed to sell the house to get the bail money, so he sold the house for the bail money. So then he took the rest of the money from that house and put it into this house. That was kind of the plan, he was just flipping houses and doing things like that.

Do you know what your Uncle Chris was also doing? Was he working in landscaping too?

DW: Yeah, that’s why they were spending so much time together. They were in business together.

With all that is happening with the Black Lives Matter protest in New Orleans, what is your opinion on that?

DW: I think it is like a good way to push the city in the right direction. It’s no secret that there has been a lot of crime out here and things like that. Starting these protests and having them be peaceful, it kind of helped the city to show that not everybody down here is a bad person or a criminal. We are all striving for the same goal but we don’t all do it the same way. We all want the city to be a better place and for us not to be scared of driving somewhere with dark-tinted windows or have the fear of being pulled over by the police just because of that. This whole protest, here and across the United States, is addressing a real fear that the Black community is facing. It’s really progressive.

You said it was going in the right direction, but what does the idealistic future outcome look like for you?

DW: Hiring police with better training or giving better training than what they are doing now. I feel like most of the cops that are killing people, they’re not mentally prepared to do their job. Like maybe in school they were bullied so they feel like “I am going to become a police officer and I am going to have the power to do whatever.” I feel like the force should dive deep into that and get into the mental state of whoever they are hiring, instead of just having them go through two weeks of training and giving them a badge. That whole system is not set up for police to really strive; it’s built for them to really abuse their power. If you give a person that really hasn’t had any power in their life a badge and a gun and tell them you are the person that protects people but you can also enforce whatever law you want, they are going to go off the rails and do whatever.

Protests are a way to give attention to things, so what does an ideal protest and outcome look like for you with getting justice for your father and the other families organized by the NAACP?

DW: Obviously one thing is one without anyone getting hurt. One that is so powerful and it has so much publicity that they [Jefferson Parish] can not ignore what we are saying and act on the situation that we are talking about. It seems like they brush off the protest and they just don’t take it as seriously as we do. So if we could have one that really drives the point home and help push the case for a change, that will be the ideal protest.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

DW: I really don’t want people to feel sad for me because my dad would not want me to be sad about this whole situation. He would want me to just keep moving on with my life. Obviously, he knows that I miss him, but he wouldn’t want me to be down or depressed about it. So I don’t want for people to read this interview and be like, “Awww, I feel so bad for him.” I don’t like that feeling of people feeling bad for me. It’s too much going on in the world for them to feel bad for me. I ask for them to just look at this interview as me shedding light on a serious situation, instead of me telling a sad story about my life.

Wallace with a memorial cutout: “Father and son, but best friends by choice”

Top photo: Wallace graduating from Chalmette High School in 2019, with a memorial poster of his father.

(All photos courtesy of the family)

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