Columbia teen’s family, Black organizations call for accountability after her killing

A gathering of about 30 people repeated the name “Sanaa Amenhotep” inside the headquarters of a Black community group Saturday afternoon. It was as much a prayer as a chant.

Sanaa’s body was found in a wooded area of Lexington County just a few days ago. The 15-year-old Richland Northeast High School student had been shot to death.

Following the chant, Sanaa’s mother, father and Black organizations called for more community and police accountability to try to stop the killing of other Black children. The coalition said it wants police to take missing Black children like Sanaa more seriously.

In an emotional news conference, Sharif Amenhotep, Sanaa’s father, said Black communities need to be introspective in order to change for the better. His daughter’s killing was as much a community issue as a criminal issue, he said.

“Genocide is when we kill each other,” he said. Justice for him, he said, will be for young people “to learn the value of Black life.”

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The slain teen’s father, a New Jersey resident, alongside a coalition of Black community groups, did not shy away from calling out the Richland County Sheriff’s Department on what they believe were inadequacies in the search for Sanaa, who was reported missing on April 5 — more than three weeks before her body was found. They said that the sheriff’s department and police generally should show more urgency when Black children are reported missing and treat these cases as abductions when parents say they believe it’s a kidnapping case.

The coalition included The New Black Panther Party, Newark (NJ) Anti-Violence Coalition, Mixed Sistaz United, One Common Cause Community Justice Coalition, Vision Walkers and Black Lives Matter SC. All helped in the search for Sanaa.

Through tears, Brittany Martin of Mixed Sistaz United called out the community and police.

“The police did not take this serious,” she said. “For our people not to go out there when this brother (Sharif) called to help look for his baby, Mixed Sistaz United have a problem with that.”

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Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott did not respond to the criticism but said in a statement Saturday that “Cruel and cold hearted individuals that brought fear and death to our community will now be held accountable for their actions.”

“One of the hardest parts of my job is telling parents their child has been murdered. I promised them we would bring Sanaa home,” Lott said. “I just prayed it would not be how it ended. As a parent and the Sheriff, my heart and prayers are with Sanaa’s family”.

Sanaa’s body was found Thursday in Lexington County. She had been shot multiple times.

Police have arrested three people, including two minors and 18-year-old Treveon Nelson, who is charged with murder, kidnapping, criminal conspiracy and gun offenses. A judge denied Nelson bond on Saturday. If found guilty, Nelson could face the death penalty.

Sharif Amenhotep came from New Jersey to Columbia when his daughter was reported missing. He and others searched abandoned hotels and canvassed gas stations and other businesses looking for his daughter.

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Sanaa’s mother, Saleemeh Graham-Flemming, said her daughter had run away before, but police should have listened when she and Sanaa’s father said this case was different. She wants a law named after her daughter that forces police to treat missing children as abduction cases if the parents believe that’s the case.

“We need to have more accountability and more community, not just as a Black people but as human beings,” Graham-Flemming said. “If it was just me, my daughter might have still been missing.”

Groups and people came together from as far as Texas, Alabama, Atlanta and New Jersey to help the parents search for Sanaa.

Jason Belton, co-found of Vision Walkers, which works on a host of issues in Black communities, called for community cohesion so deaths like Sanaa’s don’t happen again.

“There’s going to be accountability for any type of unrighteousness in our community that deals with our kids,” he said.

A vigil for Sanaa followed the news conference. The emotional afternoon came to a close with a call for internal change in Black communities.

“It starts with us, and it’s going to end with us,” said Ra’shad Hilton, president of Mixed Sistaz United. “To a younger generation, it’s time to change, it’s time to stand up, and it’s time to be different.”

Before the coalition left they chanted and prayed on Sanaa’s name.

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