Commentary

Saunders: Searching for answers in lethal Charlotte confrontation

bsaunders@newsobserver.comSeptember 18, 2013 

Jonathan Ferrell apparently knew the importance of an education and of working hard. He went to college and was working two jobs.

The 24-year-old former college gridironer apparently didn’t know something we older black dudes know, though – that running toward cops, even when possibly beseeching them for help, can be hazardous to one’s health.

Just ask Randall Kerrick. He’s the Charlotte animal control officer-turned-cop who allegedly pumped 10 bullets into Ferrell as Ferrell approached the cops after wrecking his car.

I know it’s hard for some, but try to put yourself in Ferrell’s shoes, the shoes he apparently lost when he had to kick out the back window to escape his mangled Camry. You clamber barefooted away from a wreck, no doubt dazed but nonetheless glad to be alive, and knock on the door of the first house you see.

The frightened woman inside calls the cops. When they arrive, you breathe a sigh of relief and run toward the flashing blue lights, thinking they represent the cavalry and that they’re going to – you know – serve and protect you.

Ferrell’s family’s attorney said no order to “stop” was issued before Kerrick began shooting. Charlotte Police Chief Rodney Monroe disputes that account.

Monroe said police are still reviewing the evidence to determine if it “was actually an assault, or actually a man dying.” He also described Ferrell as banging “viciously” at the woman’s door. Gee, how about “frantically,” chief?

Kerrick was the only officer of the three on scene to draw or fire his gun.

Understandable fear

No one should blame the woman who called police and said a robber was knocking on the door when Ferrell showed up, apparently seeking help. It would be nice to live in a world in which people’s first thought was “What can I do for you?” rather than “What are you trying to do to me,” but face it, homes: That ship sailed long ago. Thus, her apprehension was understandable.

Just last year, while visiting family in Washington, I was awakened around 2 one morning by banging on the front door. I looked out a window and saw a husky man standing on the porch. My first instinct, I’m ashamed and disappointed to say even now, was fear – and then to shout and ask the figure what he wanted. It took only a couple of seconds to realize that the big man banging furiously on the door was actually a big kid – the chubby teenage boy who lived next door across an open lot.

You see, a car had crashed into – no, through – the side of his house as the family slept, and the terrified young’un had jumped out of bed and fled to the nearest neighbor’s house. Before I could open the door he ran away, presumably to seek help elsewhere.

He didn’t run away, unfortunately, before I saw the terror in his eyes and felt the shame in my heart for not immediately sensing that he might be in distress.

Neither that woman in Charlotte nor am I trained to respond to crises. Kerrick and other Charlotte Mecklenburg police officers are – or are supposed to be.

Most brothers over the age of 12 know the rule about not making sudden moves around cops. Sometimes, though, even grown men forget. A few years ago, my buddy Ed forgot when he was speeding down Hope Valley Road in Durham and a cop pulled us over. The consequences could have been deadly.

“License and registration, please,” the officer demanded firmly but courteously.

Ed, who had recently moved here from California, wanted to show the officer how eager he was to comply, so he reached with alacrity over me and toward his glove compartment.

Bad move. The officer jumped back and put his hand on his weapon, but didn’t draw it. He wrote the speeding ticket we deserved and Ed drove off, with me in the passenger seat loosing vileness that is probably still floating around in the stratosphere.

“Man, don’t you know better than to jump like that when a cop is standing over you?” was the only printable thing that issued forth from my mouth.

That officer, while cautious, didn’t allow a misunderstanding to escalate into a lethal confrontation. Thank goodness.

No one can or should say, until the investigation is completed, whether Ferrell posed a threat to the armed officers, whether he – as Kerrick said – reached behind his back. It’ll sure be interesting to find out what he could’ve been reaching for, though, since he was unarmed.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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