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Opinion | A real danger in America: Driving, walking, running, biking, shopping while black

E.J. Bradford died because he was shopping while black.

When a shooting occurred at the Galleria on Thanksgiving night, Bradford did what any decent guy with a gun would do: He went after the shooter.

He was killed for that. Because he was out shopping while black.

Doing something while black and getting into trouble for it is a real thing.

I’m in my 19th year of teaching in the English Department at UAB, one of the most diverse universities in the nation. I have never had a class in all those years where I didn’t have African- American students. In some classes, the majority of students are of color, mostly black.

Just out of curiosity, I ask my African-American students in each class every semester if they’ve been stopped while driving black.

Without exception, every black male student – and even some women — I’ve taught have been profiled, at one time or another, usually by a white police officer who stopped them while driving black. Many have had their vehicles searched. Most of them drive away without a ticket – or apology.

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Driving while black. Walking while black. Running while black. Biking while black.

Shopping while black.

Bradford’s life was ended by a Hoover police officer. He was shot in the back three times, without a warning from the cop. Without body camera footage from the cop because the cop didn’t turn his camera on. The cop didn’t properly assess the scene. He just came in, gun a-blazing. Three bullets hit Bradford. In the back.

Yet, our attorney general, Steve Marshall, no stranger to breaking the law himself, cleared that cop for shooting Bradford, who was out on Thanksgiving night, shopping while black.

The next day truly was Black Friday for Bradford’s family and friends.

Hoover PD blamed Bradford from the start but backed off when the department learned it wasn’t he who shot and wounded another man and a little girl. The man was Bradford’s friend. But Hoover PD still blamed Bradford. Steve Marshall — no stranger to breaking the law himself — said the cop was only doing his job. As if Marshall would know what a good police officer’s job is.

This cop’s job was apparently shooting a man in the back three times because that man came to the mall, to shop while black.

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If Hoover city officials don’t hold this cop accountable, regardless of what our compromised attorney general says, they are only exacerbating the real problem. Hoover PD doesn’t have the best rep anyway, especially when it comes to dealing with minorities – you know, Latinos, black men. They don’t have the best rep, especially when trigger fingers are involved.

Driving while black. Walking while black. Running while black. Biking while black. Shopping while black.

Hoover police and city officials need to be transparent. But we can say that all day long. They promised to be transparent in the investigation of Bradford’s shooting. Then they punted the investigation to Marshall.

Hoover promised to be transparent. They broke that promise. They are still breaking it.

No reason to expect anything more now.

But in a world where bad cops should be held accountable – and this is a bad cop – they rarely are. Don’t expect much of anything. Or anything at all.

Every year, in every one of my classes at UAB, my African-American students tell me they’ve been stopped simply for driving. Or walking. Or running. Or biking. Every year, for 19 years. And this bad behavior by cops goes back a lot longer than that.

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In our gun culture, where ordinary people are encouraged to go out in public packing heat, we fail to rise to the occasion when a decent man does so and gets shot in the back three times by a cop. Without a warning. A cop who fails to turn on his body cam. Who is at first declared a hero for shooting the bad guy. But he didn’t shoot the bad guy. He shot a good guy.

There should be consequences when any cop makes a deadly “mistake.” Especially one that keeps being made over and over again by cops across the country.

But this Hoover cop can go home tonight. Hug his family. Breathe a sigh of relief. He got away with it. It probably wasn’t even close.

Because E.J. Bradford made the deadly mistake of shopping while black.

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


Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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