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Opinion | Protest is an American right, deserves respect

Joey Kennedy

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Overkill is probably a bad word to use in this context, but it’s accurate. Law enforcement is out in huge numbers to quell protests that continue in Hoover in the wake of the literal overkilling of Emantic “E.J.” Bradford Jr. on Thanksgiving night.

The resources being used to divert or “contain” the generally small and loud-but-peaceful demonstrations appear to far outweigh any danger posed by them.

That’s exactly what’s expected, though. I grew up during the Vietnam War protest era, and law enforcement often overreacted to legitimate demonstrations then. They always have, it seems: Labor strikes in the early 20th century, during the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights movement, among others.

As more information is learned about the shooting, the worse it looks for the Hoover Police Department. At first, Hoover PD said Bradford was the man who shot and wounded an 18-year-old at the Riverchase Galleria that night. (A 12-year-old girl was also wounded, but for some reason, gets very little attention now.) Hoover PD quickly backed off its original story, admitting Bradford was unlikely to be the man who fired the shots that night. Various reports claim Bradford had a gun, but his family says he had a carry permit, though one isn’t required to tote a weapon in Alabama, an open-carry state.

Another man was arrested in Georgia for the Galleria shooting.

Little else has come from Hoover officials about the tragedy, despite a vow to be transparent during the inquiry. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is conducting the investigation, and requested Hoover not release any evidence because it might jeopardize the work.

The only thing being jeopardized by the silence is the truth.

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From an autopsy commissioned by Bradford’s family and released this week, it appears the 21-year-old was shot three times from behind by a Hoover police officer while Bradford was moving away from the scene — as were many people in the Riverchase Galleria that evening after the initial shots were fired.

Again, various reports claim Hoover PD denied Bradford treatment after he was mortally wounded. Some witnesses claim Bradford was helping other people escape the scene. Others say they didn’t see Bradford with a gun, while yet others say he was holding a gun. Police originally said Bradford was “brandishing” a gun, but they’ve backed off of that claim, too.

Witness accounts of crime scenes are often contradictory and confused. But with Hoover PD, ALEA, and other officials deciding not to be open with facts, that’s all we’re left with.

And sadly, that increases racial and other tensions in Jefferson County’s second-largest city.

Some social media comments have been outright racist and ugly, which is not unexpected, either. This is Alabama, after all, and Hoover, a white-flight city, is overwhelmingly majority white. Bradford was a black man, and the protests, while racially mixed, are led by African-Americans.

Underscore, though, that the protests have been peaceful. Yes, there’s hollering and chants, but no threats of violence. Meanwhile, police, including Alabama State Troopers, at one point blocked all the exits to the Interstate in Hoover to keep protesters contained.

We are allowed to peacefully protest in this country. That’s a constitutional right. Police and Hoover city officials – and Hoover residents and business owners — must respect that. They may not like the spotlight blinding them right now, but that spotlight is in large part of Hoover PD’s own making by rushing to judgment on the killing of a young black man, then shutting down information as they continued to change their story.

We’ve seen police overreact in violent incidents against young black men all over the nation for years. When they do, police departments often respond by refusing to release information that could clear up disturbing but valid questions.

As has been shown multiple times, that creates doubt and confusion, and does real damage to a police department’s reputation in the community it is supposed to protect.

E.J. Bradford certainly was not protected by Hoover police Thanksgiving night.

All anybody wants to know is the truth, but don’t blame Bradford’s family and others for wondering whether the truth is being manipulated when officials refuse to release information now, but were so certain Bradford was the man doing the shooting in the beginning.

The other sad fact this highlights is this nation’s dangerous gun culture. There are very real and lethal consequences with laws that allow open carry. When an event does occur, who are the police supposed to be looking for? The shooter may be there, but so maybe are many others with guns strapped to their waists or held in their hands.

Even so, that’s no excuse for a police officer, supposedly trained for high-stress, treacherous situations, to shoot a suspect three times from behind without being certain he is a threat to police or others. Merely having a gun in an open-carry, gun-loving state shouldn’t qualify.

The questions will continue, and the longer it takes to answer them, the less credibility an investigation will have.

Yes, we need to see what the overall inquiry reveals and what can be done to prevent a future repeat, but showing key video and evidence about Bradford’s role now, if he had any role at all, won’t jeopardize anything if the investigation is legitimate.

After all, Thanksgiving was two weeks ago. It took Hoover PD hardly any time to publicly brand E.J. Bradford the Galleria shooter or that it was a “hero” cop who took him down.

We may not have a lot of the facts, but we know today, for a fact, that story is not true.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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