They shot him in the back.
According to an independent forensic examination commissioned by the family of Emantic “EJ” Bradford, Jr., the 21-year-old was shot three times from behind—in the head, neck and back.
And then, they lied.
They said the former Army private had been involved in a Thanksgiving night shooting at a suburban Birmingham mall. They said he was the same man who got into a fight on the second floor and was suspected of firing the shots that wounded an 18-year-old man and a 12-year-old girl. Just before 10 p.m., “one man pulled a gun and shot the other twice in the torso” near the entrance of Foot Action, a popular sneaker store, reported a local ABC station, citing an account offered by the Hoover police department.”
First, police claimed that a responding officer shot and killed EJ, the man they said was responsible for the bloodshed, within seconds of the shooting. They said EJ, who was armed, was running away from the scene when Hoover, Ala. officers encountered him. They portrayed their officers as heroes who acted quickly to “take out the threat,” according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
But a day later, law enforcement officials revealed that a second gun had been found in the mall and they were forced to admit that EJ was not the shooter. His gun was cold and had never been fired that night. They remained convinced, they said in a press conference, that the former soldier was still somehow involved in the incident. ABC pasted a note atop the previous day’s story:
“UPDATE (11/24): According to a release from the Hoover Police Department, new evidence suggests that EJ Fitzgerald Bradford, who was shot and killed by officers, may have been involved in the original altercation, but he likely did not fire the rounds that injured the 18-year-old.”
That was also a lie. (The police will say now that they were responding to information as it came in, but when that information always ends up putting the person the police shot in the worst possible light, the word “lie” applies.)
Witnesses say the two undercover officers never identified themselves, nor did they give any orders to anyone, before one of them fired the fatal shots. Though he was licensed to carry, witnesses say EJ never produced his weapon. He never threatened anyone. Yet, Hoover police released a statement the following Monday saying EJ “had a gun in his hand” and that “Mr. Bradford brandished a gun.”
Brandish, Webster’s Second tells me, means “To shake or wave (a weapon), usually menacingly.”
Witnesses who contacted the family’s attorney dispute that account and believe mall surveillance and police body camera video will prove the weapon was found still attached to his pants.
Undisputed is the fact that, despite EJ carrying identification, Hoover police did not notify his family for hours and left his body in public view for some of that time. His parents did not receive confirmation of their son’s death until his father, a former corrections officer battling cancer, contacted a Hoover police detective around 5 a.m. Friday morning. EJ, they were told, had shot two people at the Riverchase Galleria mall before he was killed by officers on the scene.
Yet, according to witnesses, EJ did everything right. He was trying to help other shoppers get away. He was a law-abiding citizen who had a concealed carry permit and, thus, the legal right to have a gun in his possession at the mall. Within days, after the official story had unraveled and protesters took to the streets, Alabama state law enforcement tracked down the man they now say was the real shooter.
Why was EJ Bradford shot? A police officer “saw a black man with a gun and he made his determination he must be a criminal,” the family attorney—who previously represented the families of shooting victims Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown—said in a press conference.
I am a gun owner and have been for the better part of my adult life. I gave up carrying a few years ago, in the wake of a high-profile mass shooting. Recently, however, I made the decision to purchase a new gun when I became concerned about my personal security. While my family’s safety was the deciding factor, I am mindful of the inherent risks that come with being black and owning a gun.
By the time I am seen as “a good guy” it may well be too late. State and federal firearms laws will do little to protect me from an officer who sees me a threat and the statistics say a jury will almost certainly agree, if things even get that far.
For us, the Second Amendment all too often does not apply.
In mid-November, a suburban Chicago police officer killed a black security guard who was attempting to detain someone involved in a fight at a bar. Jemel Roberson, who had a gun, was wearing gear that plainly identified him as a guard. “Everybody was screaming out, ‘Security!’,” witness Adam Harris told WGN-TV. Responding officers ignored them.
We know that 12-year-old Tamir Rice will never come home again. A Cleveland police officer shot him in a public park where he had been seen playing with a toy gun. Given no time to respond to commands (if any were made at all), Tamir was shot within seconds of the officer exiting his squad car by a cop who had been previously ruled unfit for duty by a neighboring police department.
We know that the Second Amendment did not protect Philando Castile, who was shot by an officer in Minnesota, even though he told the officer that there was a gun in the car. Officer Jeronimo Yanez said he had “no choice.” Castile was killed as he reached for his identification. A jury acquitted Yanez of manslaughter.
Then there was John Crawford III, who picked up a toy gun in an Ohio Walmart. He had threatened no one. There was no inciting incident. “Police said Crawford, who was 22, didn't obey commands to drop what they learned later was an air rifle he was carrying from a store shelf,” according to NBC News, despite video showing Crawford was shot immediately when officers entered the aisle.
No one was ever charged in his killing.
After the Alabama shooting, the National Rifle Association—a group that pays and publicly touts several prominent black spokespersons—said what it does after nearly every incident involving police shooting a black man with a legal weapon: nothing.
Writing in The Atlantic, Adam Serwer named it The Rice Rule:
There are no circumstances in which the responsibility for a police shooting of an unarmed black person cannot be placed on the victim.
The same applies, of course, to an armed black person.
“I did not want to see pictures of my son laying in a pool of blood and when I accidentally came across it I broke down,” said Bradford’s mother, April Pipkins, who stumbled across the horrific image as it circulated online and who has said that she believes she son would still be alive if he had been white.
“And I can’t get it out of my head. I cannot get the scene out of my head of my child laying there, nobody around him trying to help him, just laying like a piece of trash where everyone can walk around and parade and post pictures of him on social media.”
Hoover city officials—including the mayor and police chief—apologized to the family in a private meeting the following Tuesday. They offered their sympathies and said they were sorry for publicly misidentifying EJ as the shooter, but not for shooting him. After all, he was carrying a gun.
Because he had a gun, they said, EJ was “heightening” the threat and thus culpable in his own death—after they shot him three times in the back.