African American communities across the country are suffering through an astonishing amount of bloodshed (see Chicago and Wilmington) at a time when relations with and trust of the police dwell at depressing depths. From Ferguson to Cleveland to Baltimore to Charleston, allegations – and documented video footage – of excessive, and even lethal police brutality have sparked a national “Black Lives Matter” movement that shows no signs of slowing.
The endless viral videos of African-Americans being shot by police or violently arrested makes one thing crystal clear in this country: if you are white you will see and understand these incidents differently than if you are African-American.
On December 2nd in San Francisco an African-American man with a knife who had just stabbed someone ignored police orders to give up and drop his knife and got shot what sounded like about 100 times.
In Chicago last year, Laquann McDonald was shot 16 times by police officer Jason Van Dyke, but only recently were murder charges finally filed, after protestors shut down the streets. The delayed release of a police dash cam video forced Mayor Rahm Emanuel to fire the police commissioner.
In Minneapolis, “Black Lives Matter” demonstrators decry the shooting of Jamar Clark, with some witnesses saying he was handcuffed when police shot him.
In Milwaukee, a mentally ill homeless man named Dontre Hamilton was sleeping on a bench when he was awakened and searched by police, which escalated to a confrontation where he was shot 15 times.
The list of violent police encounters seems to grow every day. In Wilmington where shootings and violent crime seems to be the new normal, the police are expected to be perfect every time, and if they fall short, or if they really screw up… Better call Saul.
So Wilmington’s broken and crime-ridden African-American communities’ security is supposed to be held together by brave men and woman with high school diplomas and then five months of police academy. It’s a no-win situation. These people are not hired to be world problem-solvers. While the armed services will serve for months or years at a time, police officers on patrol in Wilmington put themselves in harms way every day for years on end. Usually and unfortunately, the only time they are in the news is for something bad.
For the African-American communities who feel under siege, where everyone knows someone who has been shot or killed, they could care less what an impossible job it would be to police their streets. The distrust and resentment for those who wear blue overrides everything else. All the many good and caring cops, or the ones who bring a murderer to justice are forgotten about as soon as something bad happens. And they believe something very bad happened in Wilmington with the police shooting of Jeremy ‘Bam Bam’ McDole.
There are two narratives available about what happened on September 23rd: the one from the police is the version most of us have heard about, or seen on TV; and the other narrative is the street version. Unfortunately for a city gripped with crime, the residents living in neighborhoods and near corners we hear about over and over again (8th & Bennett, 4th & Franklin, etc.), where drugs, guns, and just trying to survive trump everything else, the version you hear on the street is always the truth.
The police version begins with a frantic 911 call that precipitated McDole’s eventual shooting. A woman screams, “Send an ambulance! A man just shot himself! He still has a gun!”
In the video of the shooting, McDole slumps in his wheelchair on a non-descript back street behind an Auto-Zone store off of Lancaster Avenue. Suddenly a police officer wielding a shotgun bursts into the frame barking, “Show me your hands! Drop the gun!” Bam sits hunched over and does neither. According to the 911 call, he is supposedly shot, so maybe that has something to do with it. Seconds later the cop suddenly fires a shot to Bam’s chest and head. Bam is hit, but finally starts to move. He uses his hands to lift his body off the wheelchair. So he’s not holding onto a gun, and if he was, you would think that maybe it would fall off his lap, but he drops weakly back in the wheelchair. He pats his pockets. He lifts his leg.
Three other officers join the first, all of them screaming, “show your hands” and “drop the gun”. McDole puts his hand halfway into his pocket and the police open up on him, killing him instantly.
The autopsy will reveal he was shot 15 times. The Coroner’s report said that the initial blast from the shotgun would have probably been fatal on its own. I went to the crime scene and really poked around and apparently they didn’t miss once: I didn’t see any bullet holes anywhere near, or behind, where he was shot.
In the following days, the City was quick to release Bam’s lengthy criminal history, including his reputation for resisting arrest, along with details about a 2010 sentencing where his public defender testified he was suicidal and being treated for depression and was on anti-depressants (my first reaction to this was that a lawyer will say just about anything to get their client a lighter sentence, but who knows). The police also say they recovered a .38 caliber pistol next to McDole’s body, presumably the same gun he used to shoot himself.
So the official police version is that Bam was suicidal and shot himself, and refused to comply with police orders, or drop his weapon, thereby making him a risk to the officers and the community. Fearing for their safety, the police had to resort to lethal force. Pretty cut and dry.
The version on the street is of course a far, far different story, and was obtained through non-attributable sources who would never speak on the-record. In fact most of these people said they feared for their lives. So even though what they say is hearsay and conjecture, does it matter? This is what they think the truth is. As my friend and community activist Jonathan Wilson of the Fathership Foundation said, “now you got the hood version.” And if swirling rumors are really the truth in neighborhoods plagued by crime, where everyone is distrustful of the police and media, well… maybe this is the only true story.
These sources from Bam’s neighborhood say that the morning he was killed, he was hanging out with a guy we’ll call ‘T.C.’ who “didn’t look right” (or was maybe high on drugs). Drugs and drug dealing are everywhere in the neighborhood of 2nd and Rodney.
A police report says that Bam used his wheelchair to conceal just this kind of activity. One of my sources says that he would sit on his gun, but like most people in the street, he had an automatic with a magazine, not a .38 revolver. Bam told a friend of his on the day he was shot that “he had been tailed by police for the last week,” and because he was easy to spot, he was being harassed.
A childhood friend said that when he bumped into Bam that same morning near his home at 2nd and Rodney, “he was the same happy, joking” friend he had always known. “No way did he kill himself – I’ve know Bam since Teenage Mutant Ninija turtles days! Bam’s a fighter.” Everyone I spoke with said the 2009 shooting that left him paralyzed did nothing to break his spirit. “You gotta rock out regardless,” Wilson told me; meaning that you have “to do what you gotta do.” Wilson was also shot and paralyzed in a robbery years ago, but said “black people don’t kill themselves like white people do. That’s why we don’t believe it when we hear someone killed themselves in jail.” Statistics actually prove that whites do commit suicide more often.
So Bam went up Lancaster Avenue with this other guy named T.C. Bam’s friends say he was lured to a woman’s house for a robbery, and they say this is the same woman who later called 911, claiming that Bam shot himself. My sources allege his trip to that area was all a trap to get him out of his neighborhood and rip Bam off. In the Auto Zone parking lot, they say T.C. tips Bam’s wheelchair over and steals Bam’s money, but “he’s a fighter,” a relative told me. “Bam could fight and he was strong. Just because he’s in a wheelchair don’t mean he couldn’t fight.” Bam’s own gun is taken from him and is used to shoot him in the buttocks as he’s falling out of his wheelchair. Bam’s cousin told me to look at the end of the video when he falls out of his wheelchair, right after he is shot by the police, where a bloodstain in that area is visible.
To deflect attention from the shooter, the female robbery cohort, who helped set Bam up, makes the breathless 911 call, saying the gunshot was self-inflicted. Bam pulls himself into the wheelchair and manages to get to the rear of the parking lot when the police suddenly show up. For a potential suicide victim, the police show up in an aggressive posture and without the kind of non-lethal weapons you might expect in such a circumstance. Where were the Tasers and bean-bag guns? It’s easy to play armchair quarterback when you’re not there, and I have heard that one of the officers had recently been shot in the face, so it’s understandable how these situations sometimes have no playbook and how emotion and fear can play a part in a police response. So far the police refuse to comment on what their standard protocol involving potential suicide scenarios dictate.
Bam’s family is demanding to have the officers names released because some people think that one of them is the same officer who arrested Bam four years earlier. In that arrest Bam was said to be drinking and smoking pot with friends on the street in Hilltop when the police pulled up told them to get out of the street. Bam was defiant as usual and when the officer got out of the car, Bam spit at the officer, who then arrested him “and always held a grudge,” according to neighborhood sources. One detail everyone agrees upon is that Bam wasn’t a guy who took orders very well.
His family has a different spin on what appears in the video to be his non-compliance. When faced with the police screaming for him to raise his hands, Bam “didn’t raise his hands because he was just shot,” or according to the police, shot himself, whichever scenario you believe. He is then shot once by the officer with the shotgun, and instead of raising his hands, my source says, “he does something really smart. He pats his pockets to show he doesn’t have a gun and lifts himself out of wheelchair to show he isn’t sitting on one.” So to one armchair theorist, Bam’s non-compliance was his ‘smart’ way of showing he didn’t have a weapon. The police see his actions differently. Regardless of what he did, or didn’t do at that point, he must have been in shock and a tremendous amount of pain.
I have also heard that the .38 caliber handgun the police have in evidence has a serial number, which should help determine whose gun it was. A friend of Bam’s laughed when I told him this. “A serial number! Please. The first thing anyone does when they get a gun out here is take off the serial number. Bam wouldn’t have had that.” My exchanges with people interviewed for this story were all similar in that drugs, guns and crime were accepted behavior and were overshadowed by intense distrust and an “us vs. them” mentality.
Family members say the woman on the 911 tape was actually a friend of Bam’s mother, and that in the days following Bam’s death she hung out at Second and Rodney or ‘2R’ as locals call it, but she never mentioned that she was near the Auto Zone and had seen Bam, or had made the 911 call. When the tape was released and Bam’s mother, Phyliss McDole heard the woman’s voice, she went to the woman’s house and “went in on her” and assaulted her. Bam’s mother was soon afterwards arrested.
The police say that Phyliss went to the wrong house and beat the wrong person, but the street says otherwise, of course. Whoever this woman is, she is now in protective custody, although the family’s high-powered attorney Billy Murphy, who just won Freddie Grey’s family close to $7,000,000, has interviewed her. There are supposedly several other 911 calls, and it will be interesting to hear if they mention anything about a suicide. The Justice Department will release findings in the next month which should reveal more, and hopefully answer questions that the family say the police are ducking.
Family members say that T.C. would have come to their house to offer sympathy after someone they knew was shot, but never came by after this shooting, which therefore proves his involvement in a robbery. “T.C. would always come around after someone got shot,” one of Bam’s relatives told me.
In what world do we live in where it seems out of place when someone doesn’t show up after another shooting!
I asked the relative just how many people she knew who had been shot. “Lets see… my mom, Bam, three cousins…” She listed twenty other names and her voice trailed off, her head swimming. More than fifty I asked? She said that fifty people might be right.
So the two versions of this case couldn’t be more different. The street version is almost over-the-top with conspiracy and intrigue, and while most readers might roll their eyes, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. Especially if the facts are coming from the police, and you categorically don’t trust anything they have to say.
If you are white and you read about police shootings like these, you may ask yourself, “why was he resisting arrest” or “why was he carrying a gun”, but if you are African-American your first questions might be “why was he targeted”, or “why did the officer feel so endangered that he fired his gun.” It is this cultural disconnect that makes it so hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel in where this is all going in America.
Last month Bam’s family and supporters marched to Rodney Square demanding answers, and hoped that city officials might come out to hear them — not one elected official or administration representative showed.
Bam’s family is planning more rallies, and a much smaller group showed up at last weekend’s Wilmington Christmas parade, shouting to Mayor Dennis Williams to talk to them. Wilmington Police spokesperson sergeant Andrea Javier said she couldn’t comment on the case and my calls to the city of Wilmington were unreturned. A Wilmington attorney told me that he heard that the city wanted to avoid the circus of a trial, and had offered the McDole family a high six-figure settlement in return for exoneration of three of the four officers implicated in the shooting. The family supposedly declined. KeKe said the family doesn’t care about the money and only wants justice for those “who executed my brother.”
Bam’s family is frustrated that the NAACP hasn’t mobilized behind them, and many people in Wilmington’s African-American community think the organization’s leadership is weak, and that they didn’t want to reach out at the national level for help directly after the shooting because of the local egos involved.
The Wilmington Black Lives Matter is a small operation run by Big Kieb Shabazz Booker (who also lost a sibling to gun violence) and their presence was felt in September a few weeks before Bam’s shooting, when an erroneous report of a noose hanging from a tree at University of Delaware led to students protesting with the activist movement’s eponymous signs.
Last week the family, Big Kieb, City Councilman Ernest “Trippi” Congo and the family spokesperson, 2012 mayoral candidate and bail bondsman Robert Bovell, had a press conference demanding the resignation of Police Chief Bobby Cummings. “This is not going away,” Bovell said. The group seems better organized, and on December 12th expects a few hundred people to march with them to the Wilmington Police station to demand Cummings ouster. The family also told me afterwards they were also going to ask for the removal of Attorney General Matt Denn.
As if to underscore the tensions between the African-American community and the police, just when this press conference began in a strip mall parking lot across from the Congo Funeral Home, a tow truck zipped in and hooked up one of the group’s cars. While the two drivers threatened to tow all the cars because the owner wanted them off his property, Bam’s family insisted that the police were actually behind it and had been circling the area waiting for the press conference to start. “They followed us here last night and parked with their high beams on across the street,” said a family member. Another relative claims that they have been getting harassing phone calls demanding that they stay quiet. “They told me to be careful driving and now my car isn’t driving right.”
National attention could easily turn to Bam’s looming wrongful death suit, given the current climate. IF it turns out that there is more to Bam’s shooting then what is being reported (or heck, even if there isn’t), and if Wilmington’s African-American community mobilizes for large-scale protests, Wilmington’s difficult and uneasy state of affairs with police could reach a tipping point.
“Mr. Al Sharpton called my family and asked if he could do anything,” Bam’s sister KeKe told me.
Putting aside concerns about a fictional TV show about Wilmington’s crime problem getting on the air, there are a lot of other “ifs” that people running the city should be worried about.