Anita Neal, Kyam Livingston’s mother, shouted at the top her lungs to the small crowd gathered at a “Justice for Kyam Livingston” rally on August 21: “I am not gonna stop ‘til I get justice! Nobody is gonna stop me! Nobody!” A year and a month after Livingston’s death, her family still mourns her passing, and they are convinced she didn’t have to die.
A 37-year-old-mother and a Ditmas Park native, Livingston died after an arrest following a domestic dispute involving her grandmother, with whom she lived. And since that day, her death has been deeply controversial. The family claims that Livingston died in Brooklyn Central Booking, awaiting arraignment, due to intentional medical neglect by police officers, who they say ignored Livingston’s pleas for help for seven hours; the NYPD has released statements saying that Livingston died in an ambulance after she was found unresponsive in her cell, as reported by NewsOne.
Exactly how she died, and even exactly where she died, will likely be resolved in the courts. But while all the focus has been on what happened while she was in custody, little attention has been paid to who she was before her arrest. The Brooklyn Ink has gathered details that shed some light on who Livingston was and on some of the difficulty surrounding her life.
Livingston was a graduate of New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn and worked as a private security guard in Manhattan. She was also a mother to a 22-year-old son named Alex. She was in a romantic relationship with a man named Bruce. “She loved her son; she was a hard worker,” said Dayann McDonough, Livingston’s godsister.
Livingston died a couple of days before her 38th birthday. She was five-foot-six and had a medium build. She had brown eyes. Her hair was of medium length and she normally wore it in a bun.
At her monthly memorial rally in August, some 30 Ditmas Park natives crowded the corner of Church and 18th streets, chanting “No justice, no peace. No racist police!” Samantha Locarno, Livingston’s childhood friend, was among them, and she describes Livingston as loving and caring. “She would always knock on our door, to check up on my kids to make sure that we are okay,” Locarno said. “She would bring us food. Her not knocking on our door, like every other day, is just so weird. My kids miss her.”
“We were sisters,” said Kyam Livington’s younger sister, Ashanta. “She would call me every morning or text me every morning and tell me to wake up—‘Wake up chica!’”
Ashanta Livingston described how her sister’s death hit the family. “We were supposed to do a barbecue for her birthday. She had bought the food and everything,” she said. “It was right after her birthday. We had to have the funeral on her birthday. So you can imagine how devastating that is.” Her sister went into a holding cell, she said, “and you’re waiting for them to come out the next day. And then to get the phone call, that your sister died…. I still don’t understand it.
“That was my only sister,” she says.
While family members and members of the Ditmas Park community describe Livingston as civil and kindhearted and generally do not believe that she was a violent person, people do acknowledge that she was argumentative.
“She did have a bit of a temper” and “a mouth,” says Dayann McDonough. “Kyam’s the type of person that if she knew she was right about something, she’d run her mouth. That’s the truth. She was vocal, she said what was on her mind.”
“She’s from Brooklyn—we were born and raised here,” says Ashanta Livingston. “You gotta have some type of defense.”
Family members also disclosed to The Brooklyn Ink that there was some dysfunction in the family—troubles that had been brewing for a long time. “There were people in the family that felt that Kyam shouldn’t be living with her grandmother, or that she had overstayed her welcome for whatever reason,” McDonough said. “Maybe because of the arguing. They have issues. All families have issues.”
Ashanta Livingston said that most of the issues between Kyam and her family were battles of pride, stemming from perceived invasions of privacy and what she defined as “petty” arguments.
“She called me every day complaining—that they’re all in my business. Telling me she wanted to leave, that she’s working to get her own place,” said Ashanta Livingston. “Every family gets into their disagreements, it was no big deal.”
Although previous news reports have stated that on the night of the incident Livingston was violent and destroyed property in her grandmother’s home after consuming vodka and wine, the criminal complaint does not show any charges of physical violence or property damage (PDF). And according to the toxicology report done as part of her autopsy, the findings show that she was sober before she died (PDF).
“The portrayal of Kyam Livingston as somebody who was an alcoholic or violent or who was hitting on her grandmother—that’s not who she was,” McDonough says. “We’re all human. She went out, she got drunk, she said something she shouldn’t have said, she got herself in trouble—it happens,” says McDonough. “I’m not saying it’s right, but it happens. It’s not a reason to die.”
Family members note that Kyam Livingston had no criminal history, and that she worked as a private security guard, a position they claim requires thorough background checks as well as drug and alcohol tests, making it difficult for Livingston’s character to be consistent with what previous media reports have claimed it to be.
“She was a mother, a sister, an aunt, a daughter,” Ashanta Livingston. “She was a person, she was a human.”