Nia Wilson and her two sisters were headed home from a family event on Sunday night, by way of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), when they were faced with what can only be described as a nightmare. A 27-year old white man by the name of John Cowell stabbed the sisters in an attack that media reports have claimed was a vicious, unprovoked crime. Surveillance camera shows that Cowell had been riding in the same car as the sisters and never once interacted with them, but in a moment’s notice, as they all stepped off the train Nia Wilson and her 26-year-old sister Letifah Wilson were ruthlessly stabbed.
Cowell’s criminal record illustrates in great detail that this act of violence and hate wasn’t the first in his life. In fact, police described him as a “violent felon” who was on parole when he murdered Nia. The motive itself is still being investigated, but it seems quite clear what the issue is on the ground. Activists have taken to social media, and to the streets of Oakland, insisting that the motive lies in the rampant racism alive in America’s social fabric. The #sayhername movement uses social media platforms to rally around the stories, causes, and calls to justice for victims of deeply rooted systemic racism.
The victim, 18-year-old Nia Wilson, was just beginning her journey to adult with big dreams and ambitions. Growing up, Nia delicately weaved her way through relentless solicitations from men and dodged racial slurs from her peers. She resisted at the intersection of misogyny and racism, an unfortunately common reality for Black women in Western society. Those who knew Nia, the same people who are now buried in a heap of sadness, described her as an ambitious force. Her older sister explains how Nia, as a recent high school graduate, wanted to study the criminal justice system in depth.
Nia’s father, Ansar Mohammed, mourning the loss of his beloved daughter, has graciously asked the African-American Community to ‘stand down’ while police investigate. But that will be difficult. How can we not demand justice for someone who needed it the moment she was born Black in America? The heartbreaking murder of Nia Wilson brings about so many more questions that we as a society must answer: How have we let this happen? How do we balance the wishes of those facing the very real pain of loss with the need to speak out and speak up?
In light of this awful unspeakable attack I am left with one sad truth, one I wish would not be so: This will happen again and again unless we all come together, regardless of race or gender or religion, to push for change and healing in a meaningful way. Can we stop this pain?
Rest in Peace and Power Nia Wilson