After admitting to mistakenly killing Emantic “EJ” Bradford, Jr., following a mall shooting that left two other people injured in Alabama, the credibility of local law enforcement was lacking, to put it mildly. And now, to add insult to literal injury, it appeared that the Hoover Police Department was concealing both the name of the officer who fired the fatal shot as well as the accompanying body cam footage that was presumably rolling at the time of the shooting in the Riverside Galleria on Thanksgiving night.
While an arrest for the actual suspect came Thursday, it wasn’t nearly enough solace for Bradford’s grieving family, which was never notified by police about the shooting and had to find out on social media. On top of that, police have consequently avoided meeting with local civil rights leaders over the hasty killing of a legally armed man in an open carry state. The response, or lack thereof, seemed to follow the standard recipe in the aftermath of other high-profile shootings of Black men.
“We sent a letter to the mayor and police chief of Hoover to request a meeting. But they haven’t given us a date,” Alabama NAACP President Benard Simelton told NewsOne during an interview Thursday. “It appears that they’re dragging their feet.”
Bradford, a 21-year-old member of the U.S Army who was legally armed and brandishing his gun to reportedly save lives in the mall shooting that was started by someone else, was shot on sight by apparently implicitly biased police accused of only seeing the color of his skin. It was immediately announced that Bradford was the mall shooter before police admitted its avoidable error when it was learned that Bradford’s gun had not been fired. Some witnesses said the 21-year-old veteran was helping others escape the shooting.
While Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato, Police Chief Nick Derzis and City Councilman Derrick Murphy — the only Black member of Hoover’s city council — met with Bradford’s family to “express their sincerest condolences and prayers to Mr. Bradford’s family on their loss,” the gesture appeared to be too little, too late, Simelton said.
“They have not been very respectful or considerate of what the family is going through,” Simelton said of Hoover leadership, adding that it took several days for city officials to sit down with Bradford’s family.
Authorities dragged Bradford’s good name through the mud before admitting their mistake, following the post-shooting script of other departments that have slandered dead victims of police shootings. Botham Jean was demonized by police for having a small amount of marijuana in his home even though he was unarmed when Amber Guyger illegally entered his home and killed him in Dallas in September. In suburban Chicago, police were refusing to release the name of the officer who killed Jemel Roberson, a legally armed security guard who was subduing a gunman when cops opened fire on him earlier this month.
The same thing was happening in Alabama with the killing of Bradford, whose mother April Pipkins said she called the local coroner’s office to confirm EJ’s death because police failed to contact the family. None of this would have happened if he was white, Pipkins told the Associated Press on Tuesday, the same day Simelton attended a prayer and justice meeting with Bradford’s family at the historic 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.
“EJ’s mom was overcome by emotion had to be taken by an ambulance to the hospital. EJ and his dad had a close relationship. This is happening while he’s battling cancer,” Simelton said. “It’s taken a toll on them. They are holding up the best they can.”
Like in Dallas, Hoover officials handed off the case to state investigators almost immediately, which allowed them to avoid answering key questions and releasing video evidence.
“I don’t think they had any intention of being transparent about what happened,” Simelton said.
Some activists have protested at the Riverchase Galleria mall where the shooting happened and called for a boycott to “shut down” Hoover, but Simelton said the NAACP wanted to take a different approach.
“The mall is not at fault,” he said. “This is about the Hoover police and the way they handled the whole situation. We want to put the blame squarely on them.”
He had a conference call Wednesday night with NAACP members who called for community meetings with the police to reach an understanding of each other.
“We know and respect the work they do, but as a citizen, you have a right to go and come without a police officer shooting you,” Simelton said, adding that the NAACP was also calling for Black folks to elect officials who understand and act on their interest.
Citing historical precedent, Simelton’s prediction for the case wasn’t remotely optimistic.
“I don’t have high confidence that anything will be done, in terms of punishment of the police officer or the police department,” he said. “I think they will use the excuse that the officer thought he fired at the right person.”