In 2014, multiple autopsies held little weight on the scales of justice. In several cases, no actual crime was committed until the police arrived. Yet, in every one of those tragic incidents we were left asking, why did that unarmed person have to die?
The repetition of that question takes a toll on a caring heart. This brings me to one person who was shot by the police and lived to tell about it -- Levar Edward Jones.
Divine intervention aside, I'm not just saluting him for being a survivor; I want to nominate him for an honorary law degree. Not only did he take a bullet at close range, he made an open and shut case of his innocence and cross-examined the officer who shot him - all while bleeding on the ground in handcuffs. I know it sounds like an urban legend but this is the story of how Levar Edward Jones went from perpetrator to prosecutor in three minutes.
On September 4, 2014, Levar drove into a gas station in Columbia, South Carolina. As he exited his vehicle, State Trooper Sean Groubert pulled up, got out his patrol car and requested Levar's license. He was NOT pulled over by the officer so displayed no defensiveness. He simply complied. Holding keys or a cell phone in his left hand, he checks his empty back pocket with a light tap. With the fluid motion of instinctive deduction, he then turned into the car to retrieve his wallet. While Levar leaned in, Officer Groubert screamed, "GET OUT THE CAR" twice, with his gun drawn. Levar quickly complied (again) and pivoted in awkward shock while restraining his body from sudden movement. That's when Officer Groubert fired four shots.
This happened in daylight, not the murky suspicion of night. The driver's door was ajar so there was no obstructed view. Other commuters were going in and out. I highlight these details to illustrate the low level of threat. At least until Groubert started recklessly shooting in public around flammable gas tanks.
In a society that has a tendency to blame the unarmed deceased victim, Levar's shooting was a breath of fresh air for undeniable innocence and police accountability. Officer Groubert was not only fired, he was also arrested (trial verdict pending). The State even reached a settlement agreement for Levar the following month (that might be record).
There are a few other things that should be noted.
Firstly, even after being shot, Levar still managed to raise his hands in universal surrender. #HandsUpDontShoot.
Secondly, while Levar spewed a series of pertinent questions, he also gave logical explanations of his complicit actions without any hostility. He even calls the officer "Sir."
Third, Levar made Groubert answer the questions of both why he was shot and why he was stopped in the first place. He repeats the officer's reason with quizzical disbelief -- Seatbelt!?!?
Finally, Levar strengthens future testimonial by "bullet pointing" the incident to a passerby. Between moans of pain, he eliminated criminal profile suspicion by stating his occupation, showing employee ID and indicated that he just left work. All this, as if to counter any accusations of him fleeing a crime just committed (i.e. Mike Brown's alleged strong arm robbery).
On the flipside, Groubert deserves a round of pathetic applause for not shooting Levar (again) after his hands were up. Internally, he's probably the laughing stock among a cynical club of badges who know corpses can't testify. Since they put their life on the line everyday they act like any time they use their weapon it's an honorable discharge. That attitude of entitlement is supported by a long history of non-indictments and acquittals. If this shooting wasn't caught on camera, Groubert would probably be on paid administrative leave and Levar would be just another complaint number.
Figuratively speaking, the police get away with killings by the numbers and get to call it a sting. That above the law pride probably got the best of Groubert because he gave the "code blue" text book reason for shooting an unarmed citizen. It included the fair warning, the perpetrator's blatant disregard for orders and the aggressive "he kept coming toward me." In addition, when that alleged perp is a Black man, there's always a feral detail to convey man vs. animal to the white subconscious. This time it was "he stared at me."
That "stare" leads me to the sad secret. With or without staring, Levar knew what the officer saw -- the false personification of fostered perceptions deeply rooted in the birth of a nation -- so in the face of near death, with hands bound by chain, Levar Edward Jones declared his truth to be self-evident by giving the officer something owed to him, to us and to many -- an apology.
This post is part of the "28 Black Lives That Matter" series produced by The Huffington Post for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will shine a spotlight on one African-American individual who made headlines in 2014 -- mostly in circumstances we all wished had not taken place. This series will pay tribute to these individuals and address the underlying circumstances that led to their unfortunate outcomes. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #28BlackLives -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.
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