A series of emails have been sent to NewsOne purportedly from friends and acquaintances of the motorist in Georgia who saw a hit and run car accident that ended with a driver being shot dead Tuesday evening. Hannah Payne, 21, reportedly saw the collision that police in Clayton County described as a minor fender bender before she followed Kenneth Herring, 62, for a mile, blocked his car with hers, approached him and killed him with her gun. That was after she called 911, which police said typically advise callers against approaching people they’re calling about.
Payne is white and Herring is Black.
Her arrest and subsequent charge of one count of murder without malice resulted in social media users, in particular, claiming the killing was racist in nature. Considering the egregious nature of the charges and the current racial climate in the U.S., tweets that suspected racism were all but obligatory.
However, emails have been sent to this writer claiming that Payne was the farthest thing from racist and accusing NewsOne of falsely reporting that she was racist. (NewsOne never reported she was racist.)
One email said that the mere suggestion Payne could be behind a racist shooting of a Black man was ludicrous in part because her Facebook page showed she had many Black friends. However, a search for Payne’s Facebook turned up empty and a request by NewsOne to interview the people who sent the emails was denied. Because of that, the emails sent to NewsOne have been paraphrased and not quoted.
Another lengthier email said the comparisons NewsOne made between Payne and George Zimmerman were misguided. Zimmerman was the volunteer neighborhood watchman in Florida who followed and killed Trayvon Martin in 2012 even after a 911 operator told him not to approach the unarmed Black teen. He was eventually acquitted of murder under Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law. Georgia also has a Stand Your Ground law, though it was unclear if Payne planned to use that for her defense.
The email went on to add that Payne has always been romantically attracted to Black males, using that as a primary reason why the shooting could not have possibly been racially motivated.
Another email said Payne lived in a neighborhood where people of all races live together. It was unclear where Payne called home, but the latest Census data for Clayton County showed that more than 71 percent of its residents were listed as being Black.
One email blamed Herring, a senior citizen who may or may not have even realized he had hit another car, for driving for a mile after the collision despite there being no reports that he sped away. If Herring did speed away, that would presumably mean that Payne had to drive faster (read: speed) than he was driving just to catch up with him before she used her car to block him in. Insurance companies have long advised drivers who witness a hit and run to document the license plate number of the offending driver and report it to authorities. For instance, State Farm said on its website that drivers involved in and witnesses of a hit and run should not “follow the fleeing driver. Leaving the scene of the accident could put you in a compromising position: You’ll miss getting eyewitness accounts — and police could question who’s really at fault.”
The email also wondered why Herring would make such a decision to keep driving. The email insisted that had roles been reversed, Payne would have remained on the scene of her car accident. It went on to say that she carried her legally licensed gun to protect herself from people like Herring. The author of the email didn’t respond to questions about what exactly that meant.
All of the emails shared one common refrain: trying to discredit the way that NewsOne has covered the shooting as potentially being motivated by race. That was even as most mainstream media outlets have seemingly ignored the story or moved on to other current events.
Upon first glance, there was no apparent direct evidence to suggest the shooting was racially motivated. But the circumstantial evidence, bolstered by the tragic trend of white people not in law enforcement trying to police Black people, appeared to be quite strong. That was especially true when factoring in how the shooting took place in Georgia, a state that prides itself on its role in the Confederacy. In fact, the Georgia House voted in late March “to increase the penalties against those who damage the state’s public and private monuments — and make it more difficult to remove or relocate Confederate markers,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported at the time. That was as other, more progressive states have moved to remove Confederate monuments.
More recently, a mayor in a rural Georgia town rejected a Black man’s job application specifically because of his race.
Clayton County is located just 15 miles south of Atlanta, the state’s capital city where Black residents have long thrived socially and economically. But racism has persisted across the state, in both rural and urban locations, much like the rest of the country. Considering those facts, it was nearly impossible to rule out race as a motivational factor for Payne’s lethal pursuit of Herring.
Payne’s lawyer said his client was simply trying to do the right thing.
“It just seems like an unfortunate situation of a good Samaritan trying to stop a person on a hit-and-run,” Matt Tucker said.
A witness described Payne to WSB-TV as the aggressor who immediately claimed after Herring was shot that he was the one who pulled the trigger.
Given what is known about the shooting, it may come across as curious why more media outlets were not covering it. Aside from a handful of initial news reports following the news of Payne’s arrest, little other information has been reported with few, if any, follow-up news articles. Even social media was relatively silent despite that egregious nature of the shooting that typically makes for rabid fodder on Twitter and Facebook.
Regardless of what investigators discover, it was doubtful that Payne could be charged with a hate crime even if the shooting fit the criteria for it. That was because the Georgia House only recently passed a bill for what could become the state’s first hate crimes legislation. The bill must be approved by the state Senate before it can become law.
As of Friday afternoon, Payne remained locked up in Clayton County Jail without bond.