By Brent Evans
Some say Jonathan Ferrell was unlucky. Some say he was discriminated against. Some say that the police were doing their job.
I say that this type of tragedy happens way too often to African-American males in America.
Trayvon Martin was the victim of what people call a “similar situation” to that of Ferrell. Except in Ferrell’s case, the police – not a neighborhood patroller – were the culprits. Ferrell, a former Florida A&M University student and a safety on the football team, crashed his car on Sept. 14 in Charlotte, crawled out his car’s back window, stumbled to the first house he saw, and knocked on the door for help. The homeowner, an older Caucasian woman, opened the door thinking it was her husband. When she realized it wasn’t, she slammed the door and called the police.
Let’s pause the story right there, because this is when the Jonathan Ferrell story takes a turn for the worst. Walking around the Queens campus, I asked several African-American males their views on the first half of this tragic story.
The question was this: “Do you think that the homeowner would have been so alarmed if the man at the door had been Caucasian?’’
Many of the students questioned did not want to comment on this topic. But Josh Clyburn, a senior basketball player, said he thinks Ferrell’s race played a role.
“I believe that the owner would have reacted totally different,’’ said Clyburn. “I understand that she may have been frightened and even maybe a little overwhelmed, but she didn’t even take the time to see the facial expression or the distress in Jonathan Ferrell’s face and body.”
Let’s continue with the story. When police arrived on the scene, Ferrell advanced toward them asking for help. He was given three commands to get on the ground. When he did not comply, Officer Randall Kerrick backed up and fired his gun 12 times. Jonathan Ferrell was dead.
Initial reactions by African-American males at Queens and across the country were that of rage.
“I think it’s messed up how they did that kid,’’ said Brandon Nichols, a Queens graduate, “It’s a shame that a young black male can’t seek police assistance without getting shot. As he was running towards them, they could have tackled him or something to restrain him. That is something that they do on the regular. That policeman did not have to draw his gun and open fire that quickly.”
Fredrick Auber, another African-American student, said the police had erred and should not have opened fire.
“The officer that shot him should get some type of punishment,” he said, adding that he, like many other African-American males, are furious because of race-related tragedies repeating themselves in American society today.
Wanting to get an adult’s opinion, I asked Edward Young, an African-American male and Queens’ Director of Residence Life, his thoughts on the Ferrell story.
“His story is very troubling and adds another uncomfortable level to the teaching I have to give my sons about dealing with the police,’’ said Young. “Before, my teaching was focused around if they were caught doing something or were pulled over for a traffic violation. But knowing that a college-educated man who was starting a family was shot while seeking help is much more than sad. It’s a tragedy.’’
“If the police are there to ‘protect and serve,’ who are they protecting and serving when a man injured in a car accident is fatally shot?” Young asked.
Earlier this fall, George Zimmerman was set free for killing Trayvon Martin for what Zimmermann said was trespassing. But the subtext was that Zimmerman killed Martin because he was a black and Zimmerman assumed he was dangerous.
This kind of racial profiling has to stop within our society – whether the victim is White, Black, Hispanic, or Asian. This kind of racial profiling is destroying our country and the fabric of our otherwise progressive society. Tragedies like the Martin and Ferrell cases do not just affect promising young lives and the families of innocent men. They affect entire communities – black and white.
When do we stop these stories, and start to build true peace?