Bringing the definition of “overkill” to a new level, an off-duty police officer moonlighting as a Walmart security guard shot to death a Houston mother of two he suspected was shoplifting.
Shelly Frey was shopping at Walmart with her friends, Tiasa Andrews and Yolanda Craig, when Louis Campbell, a 26-year veteran deputy, accused the women of shoplifting. The trio took off into the parking lot, Campbell fast on their heels—a chase that began with one of the women hitting Campbell on the head with a purse and that escalated when the three got into their car and tried to speed away. Frey, refusing to back down from the pursuit, fired into the car when, he says, the driver backed up and he became lodged “between the car door and the driver’s seat and feared for his safety.” Campbell shot his gun into the car with the two children in the back seat.
Let me say that one again: There were two children in the car.
Frey, who was a passenger in that car, was shot in the neck. She died a short time later at a nearby apartment building, where her friends drove after the fatal scuffle. Andrews, Yolanda and the two children riding in the back seat—they were not Frey’s kids—escaped injury, but the grown-ups later were arrested and charged with shoplifting.
Frey leaves behind two children. One of those children, a 2-year-old, suffers from sickle cell anemia, an illness, Frey’s mother says, that made it hard for her daughter to work, thus putting a severe strain on the young mother’s finances. Indeed, she’d pleaded guilty earlier this year to stealing shirts and a package of meat from Walmart and agreed to avoid the discount big-box store as part of a plea agreement.
Now, Frey’s parents are looking for answers. “Why couldn’t you just shoot the tire, shoot the window?” asked Sharon Wilkerson, Frey’s mother, in an interview with Houston’s KHOU 11 News. “Was it that serious?”
Apparently, Campbell thought it was. As do all-too-many commenters on news sites that posted stories about Frey’s shooting death. Against my own better judgment, I waded into the madness, only to read people callously peg Frey a shoplifting criminal who would be alive today if she didn’t shoplift, run from the security guard or get into a car with a woman who tried to run down an armed mall cop.
Why yes, that sentiment makes all the sense in the world if you don’t view black mothers as human, think vigilantism should be the law of the land (Stand Your Ground, anyone?) and are all for Walmart security shooting people in the neck for looking like they’re stealing some of the cheap shit they’re hawking in the billion-dollar chain store.
The rest of us—people whose knuckles don’t drag the ground and who actually believe in innocent until proven guilty and the sanctity of ALL human life—think more deeply. Or at least more rationally. Here’s a novel idea of how the whole messy affair could have gone down much cleaner, with Frey walking away alive: Campbell could have given chase to the car. He could have left his gun in his holster and instead grabbed a pen to record the license plate number on the car. He could have then called on-duty cops and let them do their jobs. The cops could have tracked down the owner of the car, done an investigation and arrested the women if they did, indeed, shoplift.
Boom. A mother is alive to raise her children. Two babies have their mama—even if she is convicted of shoplifting and her kids are seeing her through prison bars. Two parents aren’t mourning their child and planning a funeral two weeks before Christmas. Walmart has their little cheap goods back. A police officer doesn’t have to toss and turn at night, knowing he took someone’s life over, what? A couple shirts and a pack of meat?
Rest in peace, Shelly Frey. Lord knows you didn’t deserve the death penalty because someone thought you stole a few ugly shirts from Walmart. I mean, really.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.