By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
When he began chemotherapy treatments for cancer, Emantic Bradford Sr. could always count on one thing—a daily visit or call day from his 21-year-old son, Emantic Fitzgerald “E.J.” Bradford Jr.
The last conversation between the father and son was the day before Thanksgiving. When leaving Bradford Sr.’s house that Wednesday, Bradford Jr. said, “I’m gone, daddy. I love you.” The following evening, Bradford Jr. was shot and killed by a police officer at the Riverchase Galleria mall in Hoover, Ala., a suburb of Birmingham.
That was three weeks ago. Here’s much of what happened on that night and since.
Black Friday shopping turned dark at the Riverchase Galleria on Thanksgiving night, when three people were shot, one fatally. The Hoover Police Department (HPD) said an argument among several young men led to gunfire at the mall. Brian Wilson, 18, identified as a friend of Bradford Jr., was wounded, as was 12-year-old Molly Davis, a bystander who was shot in the back. The young man was left in serious condition. The young girl underwent surgery. Both are recovering.
The third individual shot was Bradford Jr. of Hueytown. Police initially said he was responsible for shooting Wilson and Davis, adding that HPD officers acted heroically to “take out the threat” within seconds of shots being fired in the crowded mall. The police then retracted the statement, saying Bradford was likely not the gunman and they regretted that their initial media release wasn’t accurate.
On Thursday, November 29, U.S. Marshals apprehended 20-year-old Erron Brown in connection with the shooting of Wilson and Davis. He was nabbed at a relative’s house in Fulton County, Ga., on the charge of attempted murder. Brown is back in Alabama, in the Jefferson County Jail on $150,000 bond. His attorney said he is not guilty.
“Stop Killing Us”
A shooting that results in the death of a young black man by a white police officer is an incident that occurs all too often across the U.S. Now, it happened in Alabama—and along with it came protests, Civil Rights leaders and attorneys, and national media.
“Police officers must stop being aggressive with young men of color and stop killing us,” said Benard Simelton, president of the Alabama State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “Police officers must use human rights tactics to engage who they believe is the perpetrator. A life has been lost because police do not see African-Americans as humans.”
Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell, who represents Alabama’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, said, “Tragedies like this one erode the public trust. Through accountability and transparency, it is my hope we can get to the truth of the events that transpired that evening and get justice for the victims.”
Bradford Jr.’s mother, April Pipkens, his father, Bradford Sr., several of his family members, and others believe Bradford, who had a permit, was shot not because he had a gun but because he was a black man with a gun.
HPD initially said Bradford “was fleeing the shooting scene while brandishing a handgun” when an officer shot him in a corridor outside the JCPenney store.
The police then released another modified statement that said, “We can say with certainty Mr. Bradford brandished a gun during the seconds following the gunshots which instantly heightened the sense of threat to approaching officers responding to the chaotic scene.”
“My child was a good child,” Bradford Sr. said at his son’s funeral. “I love the conversations we used to have all the time. … The years I had with him were 21 good years. … He’s always going to be my hero.”
In an interview with CBS News, Pipkens said, “[Bradford Jr.] would be the one trying to get people out of harm’s way. That’s the type of person he was. You shoot first and ask questions later? It’s backward.”
Bradford Jr.’s family demanded that the recordings of the shooting from that evening be released, reiterating that Bradford Jr. would be the person to help, not harm, others. Attorneys representing the victim’s family, as well as Jefferson County District Attorney (DA) Danny Carr and Bessemer Cutoff District Attorney Lynneice Washington, have seen 30-second footage of the deadly encounter. The footage has not been released publicly.
Police in Hoover said they can’t release video or other evidence because the case is being investigating by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA). State officials have refused to release any information, saying that to do so could harm the continuing probe, the AP previously reported.
After the HPD acknowledged that Bradford Jr. was not the shooter, the young man’s parents were enraged. The community was, too.
Public protests followed in the two weeks after Bradford’s death and more are planned. Most of the demonstrations have been held at the Riverchase Galleria. Some have taken place on U.S. Highway 31, blocking traffic to one of the main thoroughfares adjacent to the mall. Three people have been arrested. Two are accused of having been involved in a protest that shut down Interstate 459, another was arrested for a separate incident on U.S. Highway 31 last week.
Protesters have also gone to the home of Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato and attended Hoover City Council meetings. During a council meeting earlier this month, a few protestors spoke, including Birmingham activist Carlos Chaverst Jr., who has organized many of the demonstrations.
“If I were to be pulled over by a Hoover cop, the first thing I have to do is what? Identify myself,” Chaverst said at the meeting. “Yet these officers have no kind of identification [and] came out with several lies over the past few days with statements. You first told us that [Bradford Jr.] was a suspect. That went all over national news. It took you all five days to contact his family, [as a] matter of fact. The family had a funeral on Saturday, [December 1], and nobody from the city of Hoover showed up to pay their respect. They sent condolences, but nobody could show up to this funeral.”
City Officials Meet Family
Hoover city officials—Brocato, Councilman Derrick Murphy, and HPD Chief Nick Derzis—met with Bradford Jr.’s family on Tuesday, November 27. They “expressed their “sincerest condolences and prayers to Mr. Bradford’s family on their loss,” and “Chief Derzis acknowledged and apologized for the issuance of an inaccurate public statement in the wake of this tragedy that implied Bradford Jr. was the suspected shooter.” In a statement, city officials said they “answered any questions that they could” during the meeting.
Civil Rights attorney Benjamin Crump, a lawyer representing the family, said there were “deep emotions on both sides.” He also said, “It was a very emotional and intense meeting.”
According to a New York Times article, “Crump said the family repeated their demand to ‘just release the video’ of body camera and other footage of the fatal encounter on the second floor of the shopping mall.
“‘The family still wants to know the truth of what happened and the fact that they didn’t get any closer to the truth caused them to still be very disappointed that they are still devastated that E.J. has been killed and that this information was released to defame his character and assassinate his character,’ Crump said.”
The New York Times report also referred to a statement that said, “the city of Hoover canceled a Christmas tree lighting that had been scheduled for Thursday, [November 29.]
“‘We want healing for the community, and we invite all persons of every faith to pray for the Bradford family and encourage all houses of worship to pray for God’s help in unifying our community,’ the statement said.”
On Tuesday, November 27, a Prayer and Justice Community Meeting was held at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in downtown Birmingham. Among those in attendance were Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson, Bradford Jr.’s family, and representatives from the NAACP and other organizations.
Kira Fonteneau, a local lawyer and board member with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alabama, said Bradford Jr. wasn’t granted the right for his constitutional rights to be upheld, which everyone is due, she said.
NAACP Region Five Director Kevin Myles said, “[I am] tired of us gathering to mourn the loss of another innocent, young life at the hands of police. I am tired of what comes next, which is the conversation that we should ‘wait and reserve judgment until you have all of the facts.’ I’m wondering when it will be time to say that to the police.”
The NAACP’s Simelton asked when young black men will be respected as human beings, adding that they are entitled to live in peace and harmony just like anyone else.
“Our law enforcement personnel have the responsibility to protect those in our community,” he said. “When [they] go around shooting people under the precept that, ‘Oh, I thought he was doing this,’ … that is wrong in Birmingham, Ala.; that is wrong in Dallas, Texas; that is wrong in Chicago, Ill.; that is wrong in America.”
Simelton added, “Police officers must know the facts involved before pulling their weapons. Police officers must stop being trigger happy when it comes to our children.”
Tyson called for organized and peaceful protests. She also told protesters to not march at Hoover schools or property owned by elected officials.
“[That] is no way to handle the situation,” she said, adding that protesters need to learn from history and organize. “It took years of the Civil Rights Movement coming together. They didn’t just jump up and do that with the [Montgomery Bus Boycott].”
Crump pointed out the relationship between Bradford Sr. and his son and mentioned how the younger Bradford visited his dad every day and encouraged his dad to beat his fight with cancer.
“We have to fill the gap because it’s a village,” said Crump. “When a child loses their parents, they’re an orphan. When a spouse loses a spouse, they’re a widow. … There is no word in the dictionary where the child has been lost to the parent, and that is what this is about.”
Then Bradford Jr.’s parents spoke.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow. No parent wants to get that phone call late at night,” said Bradford Sr., who told a few stories to describe the type of young man his son was.
Although Bradford Sr. said he always worried about and made sure his son was safe, it seems Bradford Jr. did the same for his father.
“Me and my son, like I said, we always had that conversation. … He’d come by the house and spend the weekend with me, treat me like I’m his kid. I’d be in the room asleep, he’d tap on the door, ease on in there, ‘Daddy, you need anything?’ ‘Nah, E.J., I’m straight.’”
When Bradford Sr. started his chemotherapy treatments, Bradford Jr. visited him every day; on days he wasn’t able to stop by, he’d call. When saying goodbye after their last visit, the day before Thanksgiving, they each said, “I love you.” Bradford Sr. told his son to go straight home.
On the night of the shooting, Bradford Sr. called his son several times and did not get an answer. He called the HPD but did not speak to anyone about his son until after 3 a.m. Though he was upset with the length of time it took for him to talk with someone, Bradford Sr. said the detective did a great job.
Bradford Sr. added that his son was a good, respectful child who loved his family, and now he can’t hear his son call him “Daddy” anymore.
Pipkens was emotional during the vigil.
“I want to just thank everyone for all of your support during this time,” she said, before fainting. “It’s been a hard time for the family, and his father said it in a nutshell, … our Thanksgiving will never ever be the same. Every holiday, we have to relive that over and over and over again. It’s like, … I’m just at a loss of words. I’m trying to be strong during this time and hold up.”
The funeral for Bradford Jr. was held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, December 1 at the Boutwell Auditorium in downtown Birmingham. Joining family and friends at the service were several community members, local officials, and national dignitaries, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Bradford Jr.’s friend Germy Adams performed a spoken word piece, in which he shared some memories: “I’ll never forget the times we shined, the times we struggled. No matter what, we were genuinely there for each other. Everything still feels unreal, but I know this how it’s got to be. Only thing I ask is if you’ll save a spot in heaven for me. I love you, boy, for life.”
Another friend, Jamari Coney, said Bradford Jr. was more than a brother, “He was a blessing.”
Kriston Peterson, another friend, shed more light on Bradford Jr.’s character when describing how caring he was: “It was always love with E.J. He was more than just a friend, he was always somebody you could call on. Everybody called E.J., and he was always going to come, come in smiling. … E.J. was a wonderful person, he’s gonna forever be remembered.”
Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales offered a few words of healing and compassion, adding that the family will need to depend on the community for strength.
“It’s time for us to come together,” she said. “We’re going to have to, once and for all, have a conversation this country doesn’t want to have. … It’s not just a black thing. It’s not just a white thing. It’s a human thing. When you get that through your spirit, you’ll see a change.”
Jackson delivered Bradford Jr.’s eulogy.
“His name will not die. His blood will not have been shed in vain as long as we remember him. We will not forget him. The officer who took Emantic’s life … must face justice,” he said, adding that no one—not even the president and certainly not a police officer—should be above the law.
Jackson said this is the new South, and the new South must be for everybody: “In Emantic’s memory, we demand equal protection under the law. In his memory, we want to see the tapes now.”
After Bradford Jr.’s funeral, Birmingham resident Khameshia Williams said she couldn’t believe this happened in her city’s metropolitan area. She felt like she needed to go to the service to show respect for the family and all African-American males.
“I don’t know what it is that I need to do, but I know that showing respect is a start,” she said. “Hopefully, it helps me just reach out to the community or just protect our men, black men in general, and let them know they’re not alone.”
Williams pointed out the impact that Bradford Jr.’s death had on the many young black men at the solemn service.
“I noticed that a lot of his friends up there, just going to view the casket, … were holding back tears. I was thinking to myself, I can’t imagine … not being able to express myself as far as emotions and things like that. It’s something we have to shift with our men, to let them know it’s OK to feel that sorrow and feel emotions, [to let them know they] definitely are not alone.”
On December 3, lawyers for Bradford Jr.’s family held a news conference to reveal the findings of a forensic pathologists report. According to the private medical review, the young man was shot three times: in the back, the back of his head, and the back of his neck.
“All of these shots were potentially kill shots,” said family lawyer Crump, who added that the review suggested that Bradford Jr. was running away from the officer when he was shot.
“There’s nothing that justifies him shooting E.J. as he’s moving away from him. You’re not a threat when you’re running away.”
People at all levels are still asking to have the video of Bradford Jr.’s shooting released to the public. The HPD said state investigators are concerned that the investigation could be jeopardized if information is released.
There is no specific timeline for state law enforcement to complete its inquiry. Video of the shooting likely won’t be released until the investigation is done.
U.S. Rep. Sewell said, “As a community, we must insist that the ALEA, the HPD, and all law enforcement involved conduct this investigation with the utmost transparency to the public.”
When State Bureau of Investigation agents complete their work, information, including body camera video of Bradford’s shooting, will be turned over to the district attorney’s office.
Jefferson County DA Carr, whose office will ultimately decide whether to bring charges, said the ALEA’s investigation is not complete and remains ongoing.
“We will continue to review all evidence submitted to our office related to this case,” he said. “We are confident that the ALEA is working to complete the investigation in a timely manner. In light of the fact that so many people were present in the mall that evening, witness interviews are still ongoing.”
This article includes information from birminghamwatch.org, the Washington Post, AL.com, the Associated Press, the New York Times, and CBS News.