Jonathan Ferrell is seen in an undated photo provided by Florida A&M University. Ferrell, 24, was shot and killed Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, by North Carolina police officer Randall Kerrick after a wreck in Charlotte, N.C. Ferrell was unarmed. (AP Photo/Florida A&M University)
If after Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and Darius Simmons, you thought that you could be sickened by racist violence but no longer shocked, you need to know the story of Jonathan Ferrell. This past weekend, as the country remembered the fiftieth anniversary of the 16th St. Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham that took the lives of four little girls, another murder draped in racism took place, and the details, even in these jaded times, are shocking.
Jonathan Ferrell, a 24-year-old former football player at Florida A&M University crashed his car in Charlotte, North Carolina. The wreck was so awful that Ferrell, according to police reports, had to climb out of his back window. He somehow stumbled in the middle of the night to the closest home and pounded on the door—“banging on the door viciously,” in the bizarre phrasing of Charlotte police chief Rodney Monroe—and begged for help. According to police reports, the person inside didn’t call an ambulance but hit her alarm panic button, indicating to police that a home invasion was in progress. As the Charlotte PD approached, Ferrell continued to “attempt to gain the attention of the homeowner.” When they arrived, Ferrell “charged” toward them. One of the three officers tasered Ferrell. When that did not stop his “advance”, 27-year-old Officer Randall Kerrick opened fire, hitting Jonathan Ferrell ten times – initial media reports said three times – killing him at the scene.
Officer Kerrick was the only policeman to take out his gun and fire, which raises questions about their description of Ferrell as “charging” towards them after being tasered. According to The Charlotte Observer, police actually said initially that Kerrick’s actions were “appropriate and lawful.” Yet the brazenness of the shooting, the absence of any evidence Ferrell was under the influence of anything other than a possible concussion, and the fact that there was really no way to spin this, meant that Kerrick was quickly arrested and charged with voluntary manslaughter. According to North Carolina law, “voluntary manslaughter” means that Kerrick acted with “imperfect self-defense.” The police statement said that “the evidence revealed that Mr. Ferrell did advance on Officer Kerrick and the investigation showed that the subsequent shooting of Mr. Ferrell was excessive. Our investigation has shown that Officer Kerrick did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter.”