Contributors: Tammy Davis, Latonya Davis, Oja Vincent
Photos: Eduardo Rossal-Cabrera, Nissa Tzun, and archival photos courtesy of Tammy and Latonya Davis
Eighteen years ago today, on September 13, 2002, the life of Cornelius Katt Davis was stolen by a police officer in St. Louis, MO. As for the story of what happened that day, included here are the words of his mother, Tammy Davis, his sister, Latonya Davis, and we, Forced Trajectory Project, plan to travel to St.Louis to document the perspective of family members and friends in the near future. What is definite about his story in my opinion is that he was experiencing a mental health crisis and like so many other cases of police murder we have seen, his life did not have to end that day: if not for police officer who murdered him without ever stating that he was a cop or trying to de-escalate the situation, Katt might still be with us today. The story in corporate news outlet changed several times and how Katt was depicted did not reflect the young man he was.
We honor Katt today with this post as the beginning of holding another intentional space alongside the many that have been held by friends, family and community over the years to continue to lift up who he was and how he has inspired so many. To me, he was a brother in collaboration and in friendship. He was one who brought deep analysis and critical thinking to conversations, always thinking as it is said ,"out of the box." Together we shared creative space, conversation, vision and vibe through my years of high school in St.Louis (Lafayette High). As an emcee, he would channel energy while rhyming that was akin to that of a revolutionary preacher, with lightning thought and vivid metaphor at any topic, in my opinion people should mention Katt when they talk about emcees like Royce the 5-9, Redman, Kendrick and Rass Kass, whose styles all remind me of my fallen brethren.
It's true what they say: It doesn't matter how long ago it was when the day comes back around it's like the day that it happened.
Cornelius Katt Davis performing circa 2000.
He was an artist of monumental skill who touched the hearts and opened the minds of thousands of people alongside his elder brother, Jia Davis, as one half of the hip hop duo Bits N Pieces, notably included on the list of best St. Louis MC's of all time. Jia introduced his little brother to the art of emceeing and over the years continues the legacy that Bits N Pieces birthed along with his nephews Royal and Geo, not to mention a long list of area artists, and has a new album slated to drop soon. Katt was a philosopher, a writer, a poet who was focused on completing his college education as he was pursuing his calling to tour the country and the world to share his craft with all people with future plans to share his scripts for plays, books, poems, movies and tv shows. He was ever expansive and the possibilities were endless; anyone that knew him knows he had the potential to meet any of those possibilities that he chose.
Katt Davis (right) and his brother Jia Davis (left) formed a hip hop group named Bits N Pieces.
Listen to Trashcan Land by Bit N Pieces from their album, Poverty's Cry.
On June 6th, 2020, family members of people who have lost their lives to police homicide from all over the U.S. came to Las Vegas to stand with Families United 4 Justice Las Vegas in speaking out about their loved ones whose lives were stolen by police misconduct and murder in response to the murder of George Floyd (r.i.p) in Minneapolis, MN on May 25, 2020.
Tammy Davis holds a portrait of her son, Cornelius Katt Davis, who was murdered by St. Louis police 18 years ago, at the Families Are The Frontline event when tens of families impacted by police homicide all over the nation gathered in downtown Las Vegas to bring attention to their collective struggle after the murder of George Floyd. Oja Vincent, longtime friend of Katt and co-founder of Forced Trajectory Project, stands behind Tammy with his fist risen. June 6, 2020, Las Vegas, NV.
The further intention of this post is to celebrate Tammy Davis for speaking for the first time about her son and opening her heart to the the press and those in attendance in June. It takes enormous bravery and strength to speak out publicly about the injustices of the police as the corporate media continues to amplify the so-called “official narrative” which comes not from witnesses, not from family members of victims, but from the same police precincts that employ those who commit the murders. As the mother of someone is navigating all of the logistics involved in the aftermath of the loss of a child, they are also fighting to counter the character assassination that follows in the media; all the while healing and mourning in the process. As a poet all of her life, Tammy not only passed her gift along to her children, but stands on it as a solid foundation as she continues to inform those who don't know about who Katt was about how amazing her son was.
Family members of people who have been stolen from our society that fight the system and represent the rest of the family and friends that have left behind give the movement power and direction. They inform activists, organizers and the community at large about how to better advocate and apply pressure to create lasting change, legislative and otherwise.
What follows is a recording of the words that Tammy Davis spoke at the Families are the Frontline press conference, along with the poem that she wrote dedicated to the late George Floyd, and a transcription of a poem she wrote for Katt.
They Took Away A Legend
By Tammy Davis
You go through life doing your best
Some of us have children at a young age
Some of us stay depressed
Fighting the system yet wanting to establish our goal
Held back by poverty with nothing but hope
Hope and dreams while living in the ghetto land
When your child grow up they have the same plan
To get out in this world doing what is right
Staying out of trouble yet always having to sacrifice
Katt had a dream like Dr. Martin Luther King
Katt too was shot down
But not by an enemy
By someone who made a mistake
Right now like my heart ache
I know the person that killed my son heart aches
Katt struggle and strive
And he did his best
To see everyone happy never had any regret
If Katt was not at work or in school
He was writing with his pen
He told me that he would write the true words to the end
Katt actually told me
His purpose for being here and what he was worth
I never seen anyone like him
My soul really hurt
He said if and he is done with his pen
He will no longer be here
But his message will be sent
Katt will forever rest in peace
I know that he is in heaven and he is really free
We are here
We must stand strong and proud
Continue to live and do what is right
Because of the young ones that are looking up at us now
Katt was a true warrior always did what was right
He never been in trouble not a day in his life
What is meant to be we cannot prevent
Katt was needed in heaven
And that is where my baby went.
A photo collage of Cornelius Katt Davis and his family: clockwise, beginning at the bottom left: Katt and Jia as Bits N Pieces perform, circa 1997; Katt and Latonya, circa 1985; Katt and Latonya, circa 1996; Katt, circa 2001; Katt and Latonya, circa 1993.
We are honored also to share the writing of Katt's sister, Latonya Davis, affectionately known as "Taffy" to her family, being read publicly for the first time as an offering as well. She shares moments from the day Katt passed, insight into her thoughts, how it affected her, and a moving example of how family, friends and community can be supportive in helping to heal and process; how the pain can be transformed, the role of resilience. Latonya and Tammy open a space for thought and dialog around all of this through their writing. For that we are grateful. Rest in Power Cornelius Katt Davis and all of those whose lives were cut short by police brutality, murder and misconduct. No More Stolen Lives!
Chapter Five - Brother by Latonya Davis
On September 13th, 2002, I got a call on my phone but I didn’t answer because I was upset about a guy I was dating at the time. I let it go to voicemail. It was my brother, Cornelius "Katt" Davis, and he left a message. He usually doesn’t call me, so I decided to check it. He told me he was very proud of me for going to college and “doing my thang.” He said to keep doing what I was doing and he said he loved me. I didn’t know it would be the last time my brother would ever call me.
I spent the entire day doing volunteer work with my college painting houses. When I made it to my dorm, I saw I had five urgent messages on my phone. I usually only get one regular message, so to have five urgent messages it didn’t make sense. The first one was my oldest sister telling me to call home. The second was my mom telling me to call my sister, then my sister again. I just stopped listening to the messages and called my sister. I asked her what was going on and she said, "Taffy, Katt is dead!"
I felt so empty and lonely. I fell to my knees and cried out.
He and my other brother, Jia Davis shared an apartment in the Central West End near Barnes Hospital. During that week, he took almost everything in the apartment and put them in several piles. My older brother and friends wanted to stay with him because he was saying questionable things about life. They all stayed with him and Katt asked for a friend's car keys to get something out of their car. Instead of getting what he needed out of the car, he got in and drove off. The crazy thing is my brother didn't have a license or even knew how to drive a car (I didn't learn until I was 25). He drove speeding up West Pine hitting three parked cars and then ran into a tree. The car he was driving suddenly caught fire. He was still in the car and strangers tried to save him, but he denied help. He was battling his demons inside and eventually got out of the car and attempted to get into another car that a woman was driving. An off-duty police officer saw and ran toward Katt. They started fighting. My brother was never arrested and has never been involved in a fight before this happened. Allegedly while they were fighting, the off-duty officer pulled out his gun and shot one bullet. The bullet hit Katt in the stomach and he was killed immediately. When the cop was in the hospital, his mother saw her son and had a heart attack and died. That week, there was two unexplained funerals.
When I got the sad news about Katt, I called everyone I knew who had a car, so I could get home. Northwest was six long hours away and I didn't have a car. My college friend, offered to drive me to Kansas City to meet a family friend who would drive me to St. Louis. Driving home was like an outer body experience. I had a lot of death in my extended family throughout high school, but never this close. I couldn't recognize the feelings I felt. It was so surreal. I feel I was the only one who had full closure with my brother because when I left for college that semester, I hugged him and said goodbye and told him I loved him the last time I saw him. It felt complete for me. I am blessed and lucky for that.
Everyone met at my oldest sister, Toshia's house and it was such a somber mood. There were already flowers and cards saying, "sorry for your loss." We had to plan for my brother's funeral and I still didn't understand how it all happened. I was told he was going through tough times and was fighting something within himself for over a week. Before he died, he threw away things in their apartment in specific dumpsters in the alley behind the apartment building. Later when we were going through the dumpsters, I found a picture of myself. It hurt me so much he would throw away a picture of me because I felt we were very close. That shows me it wasn't him doing this. He was overcome by a deep depression. It took a long time to figure out he was going through depression. I didn't know or understand depression until my brother died. I always thought the veterans on the bus who would talk to themselves were just crazy until this happened. My grandmother had some strange situations occur when we were kids, but we didn't see it as depression, we just thought she was crazy. Now we know different.
While this is going on, I started feeling a sense of darkness inside. I just lost my movie buddy, my friend who I would talk about life with. My brother who I enjoyed watch perform all over St. Louis. A person who was so talented and well known all over the city as a kind, friendly, amazing writer and lyricist. I was so hurt. I was feeling very low. I stopped caring about everything. I didn’t even want to go back to college. I was almost finished with my bachelors, but I didn’t care. My brother, Jia saw how low I was, it scared him because he has never seen me in this state before. He asked me to talk so we went to my sister’s basement steps. He asked me, “What is your purpose in life?”
I replied, “I don’t care.”
He then said, “You need to have a purpose in life. You need to find your purpose.”
I needed to hear this. It was exactly what I had to hear at that specific time. I decided to get back to school after the funeral and finish my degree. There were many ups and downs with my feelings, but I needed that push to continue because I felt I was ready to be done.