In yet another case highlighting the precarious existence of African-American men, 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell, a former football player at Florida A&M described by family as kind and loving, was gunned down by Charlotte, N.C., police when he approached officers for help after his car hit a tree.
The incident was prompted by a woman who called 911 Saturday morning and told dispatchers a man was trying to break into her home because he had been knocking on her door repeatedly. It was Ferrell, seeking help after crawling out of the back window of his car following a serious accident. When police got to the scene, they claim a man matching the caller’s description ran toward them—so Officer Randall Kerrick opened fire, hitting Ferrell with 10 of the 12 bullets he discharged.
Kerrick was arrested and charged with voluntary manslaughter. He was released yesterday on $50,000 bond.
“You took a piece of my heart that I can never put back,” Ferrell’s mother, Georgia Ferrell, said at a family press conference yesterday as she clutched a stuffed Winnie the Pooh doll her 24-year-old son loved as a child. Kerrick, she added, had no business being a police officer if he couldn’t react properly to a man who needed help. “I truly forgive him. I pray for him. And I pray that he gets off the police force,” Georgia Ferrell said.
When it comes to African-Americans and law enforcement, black men are rarely going to get the benefit of the doubt—they appear to be seen first as potential criminals until proven otherwise, leading police to shoot first and ask questions later. The result is incidents like this, a deadly response by an incompetent cop who clearly assumed the worst of Ferrell—substantially assisted by a white woman who somehow thought a black man knocking on her door was there to rob her. Since when have potential robbers knocked on the front door first to announce their presence?
While the death of teenager Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman left black parents at a loss for what to tell their sons is the proper way to respond when confronted with a white man following them, Ferrell’s death makes you wonder what a black man is supposed to do when he is in a car crash and no one is around. Injured and in need of help, should he avoid knocking on the doors of white people? If police arrive on the scene, instead of seeking assistance, should he lay on the ground with his hands behind his head when they approach, so that they will not shoot him?
In his The Nation essay, Respectability Politics Won’t Save Us: On the Death of Jonathan Ferrell, Mychal Denzel Smith poignantly pointed out that it is no longer up to us African Americans to change the perceptions of others:
These aren’t simply isolated instances of vicious terrorists or rogue police officers acting in malice. These are the wages of blackness in a society built on white supremacy. We pay in cold blood for a right to live in this country as second-class citizens. We didn’t set the price and certainly won’t change anytime soon, unless those who’ve benefitted for so long finally decide that enough is enough.
“This is an all-American young man who survived a horrific accident. He is crying for help and is showered with bullets,” Chris Chestnut, attorney for the Ferrell family, said Monday on CNN’s “New Day.” Ferrell worked two jobs and had recently moved to North Carolina to live with his fiancé.
There were three officers at the scene, with one of them firing his stun gun at Ferrell and Kerrick firing his real gun. Ferrell died at the scene.
Investigators said he had sought help after crashing his car, and ran to the nearest house. “It was a pretty serious accident,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe told CNN affiliate WSOC. WBTV reported that it was so serious that Ferrell had to climb out of the back window.
“The evidence revealed that Mr. Ferrell did advance on Officer Kerrick and the investigation showed that the subsequent shooting of Mr. Ferrell was excessive,” police said in a statement. “Our investigation has shown that Officer Kerrick did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter.”
Voluntary manslaughter means the person used excessive force in self-defense, or carried out the act without intent to kill.
“Our heart(s) go out to the family” and to members of the police force, Monroe said. “This is never something easy.”
Monroe said Kerrick was “devastated.” But attorney Chestnut said there are still many unanswered questions.
“Why was this officer even with a badge and having a gun?” said Chestnut, who also represented the family of Robert Champion, a Florida A&M University student who died in 2010 from a hazing incident. “What are the policies and procedures? What is the training that would allow an officer to act so irrationally, so inhumanely?”
Jonathan was the “greatest man I ever came in contact with,” his brother Willie said to CNN. “We’re going to file the necessary legal actions to ensure that we get the answers that this family deserves, that America deserves,” Willie Ferrell said. “This was an unwarranted, inhumane shooting.”
H/T: Atlanta Black Star
Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author of 12 books, including the upcoming "The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path To American Leadership," which he co-authored with Al Sharpton.