Bernell Trammell, a well-known Black supporter of Donald Trump who was a community fixture known for his publishing company and long conversations on religion and politics, often delivered from street corners while holding pro-Trump and other signs, was shot to death in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Trammell, 60, was gunned down on July 23 near the very spot where he gave a video interview a few hours before explaining why he supported Trump. Milwaukee police are seeking what they described as “unknown suspects.” The motive is not clear, including whether or not the slaying was tied into Trammell’s political beliefs or Trump support. Some news outlets gave the victim’s name as Bernell Tremmell, but he goes by Trammell on social media.
The Milwaukee Police Department released a photo of the suspect in Trammell’s homicide. “MPD is seeking the public’s assistance in identifying the suspect wanted for a homicide that occurred on the 900 block of East Wright Street on Thursday, July 23, 2020, at about 12:30 P.M. The victim of this incident was identified as 60 year old Milwaukee man, Bernell Trammell,” police wrote.
“The suspect is described as a male in his 30’s, 6’00, 200 pounds, last seen wearing a white and red baseball cap, a black mask covering the lower portion of his face, a black and red long sleeve shirt with white writing on the front, white or light-colored pants, black socks and white shoes. The suspect’s mode of transportation was a black bicycle. If anyone has any information they are asked to call Milwaukee Police at 414-935-7360 or Milwaukee Crime Stoppers at 414-224-TIPS where their TIP can lead to a cash reward. This incident is still under investigation and the motive of this homicide is still under determination.”
The Wisconsin GOP is now calling for a federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney into the shooting death because of “his well known political activism and the possibility that his murder could be politically motivated,” WISN-12 reported.
Kevan Penvose wrote on Facebook that Trammell “was a man with whom I hardly ever agreed about anything he wrote on his signs, but also, as a Rasta street preacher, he was one of the people that make my neighborhood so uniquely wonderful. Around 12:30 this afternoon I heard gunshots nearby as I was working at my dining room table. Soon after, I was reading reports on social media of a shooting around the block, at the location of this one-of-a-kind storefront that I’ve walked by a million times… Peace and light, Ras Bernell.”
Johnny Schaeffer, 45, knew Trammell for almost his entire life because his mother once dated him, and they stayed in touch over the years. “I’m devastated,” he told Heavy in a phone interview.
“I think that he was definitely misjudged,” Schaeffer said. “He had his views, you know. People were sometimes surprised not only by his thoughts but how he said it. He was bold, a big, taller man, and when he talked, people listened.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. A Local Writer Recorded Videos of Trammell Speaking About His Trump Support Just Hours Before Trammell Was Gunned Down in Almost the Same Spot at His Storefront
Armstrong Ransome (the pen name of local artist and writer Adebisi Agoro) wrote on the site The God Degree that he recorded video interviews with Trammell just hours before his death. “Earlier today he had mentioned to me ‘you wouldn’t guess the amount of hate I received from Black people,’” Ransome wrote. Agoro became curious about Trammell’s political beliefs after seeing him at a bus stop and decided to ask “about what I saw on Facebook and why he was holding the Trump sign?”
A few days before, Agoro had seen a photo on Facebook with Trammell carrying a Trump sign throughout the community, a post that carried the label “hero.” Alongside him walked another man with an opposing sign carrying the word “sike,” which Agoro says basically means “not.” Agoro wrote that the photo caused a “stir” on the Internet days earlier so he decided to ask Trammell about it.
Agoro recorded videos of an interview he conducted the day Trammell died in which Trammell, clutching a pro-Trump sign, explains his political beliefs. You can see those videos here.
“I have encouraged Afro-Americans from all walks of life and culture here in Wisconsin and particularly here in Milwaukee to vote Donald Trump for this year. Trump 2020. I believe Trump is the sign of the times,” Trammell says in one of the videos, recorded outside his publishing business near the very spot where he would be shot a few hours later. He is standing in front of a “Wisconsin Vote Donald Trump” sign in that video.
“No less than two hours after I left from filming Ras Bernell I had heard word from Facebook that…someone in the area that Ras Bernell stays in had been shot,” Ransome wrote on The God Degree. “To my surprise it was Ras Bernell. The moment I had read the news I was attempting to upload the above videos used in this post onto my laptop for use…He was murdered right outside of his shop where we were just speaking. His home. Seemingly these were his last words.”
The article is headlined “WHO SHOT THE RAS? Did Ras Bernell’s support for Donald Trump lead to his untimely death?” So far, the answer to that remains unknown. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said he also had a Black Lives Matter sign, although pictures of his storefront show it was not prominently displayed outside (his storefront contained three large Trump signs, a sign reading “Mulattos Lives Matter Wisconsin” and other signs, including messaging about his business.) Ransome’s article also contains a picture of those and other signs belonging to Trammell and that filled his business, including one reading, “Thumb’s up…before guns up.”
Schaeffer described Trammell as “a great guy. He had his views, he had his ways, and he was set in them. He wanted everybody to believe and know what he believed, what he wanted to say.” Trammell had a newspaper and “people writing him from all over,” Schaeffer said, adding that Trammell was the oldest person on his block.
As for his Trump support, Schaeffer added: “Yeah, his Donald Trump beliefs. He was (a Trump supporter). He kind of expressed it in a way of he knows what Trump is doing for all colors. Bernell was that type. He took the overall thought of it.
“He was a kind man,” Schaeffer added. “He was a gentle guy. Some people didn’t like what he said, but they respected him for the most part, I thought. I’d go down there, people would always say, ‘Bernell, hey.’ He knew everybody in the neighborhood. I am shocked right now.”
CBS 58 reported that Trammell was a political independent who supported candidates of different parties over the years. A memorial grew at the spot where he died in Riverwest, an area of Milwaukee known for its diversity, the television station reported, quoting a man who knew Trammell as stressing how Trammell believed in Democracy and free speech.
2. Police Say the Circumstances Leading to Trammell’s Shooting Are ‘Under Investigation’
Reggie Moore, Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention director, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he had “intervened in a dispute between Trammell and a young man” that he thought was “related to a Trump sign that Trammell was carrying.”
Moore told the newspaper that Trammell was “a Black elder who didn’t deserve to die the way that he did.” Heavy has reached out to Moore for more information on the encounter and Trammell’s importance to the community. It’s not clear whether that encounter had anything to do with Trammell’s death, though, because police aren’t saying anything about motive or suspects.
Police say the shooting unfolded on a Thursday afternoon in broad daylight.
“Milwaukee Police are investigating a shooting that occurred on Thursday, July 23, 2020, at approximately 12:31 p.m., on the 900 block of E. Wright Street,” police wrote in a news release.
“The victim, a 60-year-old man from Milwaukee sustained fatal injuries. The circumstances leading up to the shooting are under investigation. Milwaukee Police continues to seek unknown suspects. Anyone with any information is asked to contact Milwaukee Police at (414) 935-7360 or Milwaukee Crime Stoppers at (414) 224-TIPS or P3 Tips App.”
Heavy has reached out to MPD’s press office for more details, especially on potential motive.
3. People Remembered Trammell as a ‘Community Figure,’ Strong in Conviction & ‘Personable to Encounter,’ but His Views Caused Some Conflicts
Ransome called Trammell “OG Rastaman Bernel.”
“The guy was just full of love,” Dick Nelson told Fox 6 Milwaukee.
The television station spoke to Agoro, who also told Fox 6 he spoke to Trammell that morning about politics. He’s the God Degree author who recorded the videos.
“He’s just a community figure,” Agoro told the TV station. “I respected him just because he had a position. … He’s got his opinion on why he feels that way; and I’m not going to knock him.”
Agoro told Heavy: “I am not at all well acquainted with him. I just happened to serendipitously have seen him again the day before and stopped by his place after my run yesterday morning.” Agoro’s The God Degree bio reads, in part, “Like the Phoenix rising from its ashes, Milwaukee’s, Adebisi Agoro, has triumphantly risen over tragedy. After suffering an incredible loss with the untimely death of his son Summer (2018), Adebisi shed his original moniker, BLAX, as he looked ahead to the future with a new creative vision. Giving birth of Armstrong Ransome.”
Trammell was the kind of person everyone knows around a neighborhood because he was such a visible presence.
Janette Island told the station that Trammell enjoyed talking about a variety of religions, adding, “It was very deep conversations, very philosophical. He was a really great guy. He meant no harm.”
One man wrote on Facebook, “OMG. Bernell Trammell was a most interesting man, strong in his convictions to God and the Christian faith. Controversial, he was very personable to encounter. Just one of those interesting people that makes Milwaukee an interesting place to live and work in. Terrible loss here. Too many guns on the street and too many people in possession of them. This was a man of peace. God rest.”
He held other controversial beliefs in addition to supporting Trump, and his life was not without conflict. A woman wrote on the God Degree article comment thread that she was “sad for his passing but know he is near the Lord. There is a lot to be learned in the dichotomy that was Bernel. I have been catching hell from people on Facebook for saying that he was my buddy and that I am sad he’s gone. Apparently he spoke out against our lgbtq citizens and one or two others said that he spoke hateful things towards the earth’s Asian population. None of us who knew him saw him as a violent or hateful man. But he had radical ideas.”
A woman who knew him wrote on Facebook:
Yesterday a person was shot and killed in my neighborhood. We don’t know why. He was a very verbal person about his opinions (signs, storefront, intersections) AND a very kind person with a smile for EVERYONE. He lived a life congruent with his beliefs and to the best of our knowledge hurt no one. I believe he lived that worthy life and am deeply saddened by his assassination (five shots is an assassination – thank God no one else was injured or killed). May the perpetrator be brought to justice. Rest in Peace Bernell Trammell. Thank you for the courage of your convictions and your smile for everyone. May your family find peace in this trauma. You will be missed!
Police have not confirmed how many times Trammell was shot; they also have not yet released the victim’s name officially.
4. Trammell, Who Was Described as ‘Like a Wise Oak Tree,’ Was Active on Social Media & Held Rastafarian Views
Trammell had a YouTube page called “eXpressions Journal Publications LLC.” Videos he posted to YouTube show him standing on a street corner shouting about religion.
Schaeffer described Trammell as having Rastafarian views but added, “He developed his own style with it as well. He was very into his Rasta and reggae music that we grew up on. I can’t tell you exactly what religion he was. I don’t think he was a certain religion, I really don’t.”
He added: “He was like a wise oak tree. He talked about everything. Every race, everything going on.”
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Rastafari, also spelled Ras Tafari” is a “religious and political movement, begun in Jamaica in the 1930s and adopted by many groups around the globe, that combines Protestant Christianity, mysticism, and a pan-African political consciousness.”
In one video, Trammell said he was no longer a “beacon for interracial marriages or dating” and said he was no longer an “interracial dating Israelite.” The videos on his YouTube page date to 2018 and are about religion and the Israelites, not politics. He had some court cases over the years, including for tax issues and small claims. In 2014, a woman was granted a restraining order against him. He had a couple of felony cases but they date to 1990 and the 1980s, Wisconsin court records show.
“This is heartbreaking. He did not deserve this. I am sickened by the disregard for human life in the city of Milwaukee,” a woman wrote on the God Degree comment thread.
Homicide in Milwaukee has increased dramatically in 2020, with the number of people slain doubling over last year in June, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
5. Trammell Was Described as Being ‘Well Known in His Community’ for Standing on Street Corners With ‘Vote Trump’ Signs
According to a post by conservative talk show host Dan O’Donnell, Trammell was “well known in his community for standing on street corners with ‘Vote Trump’ signs.”
He was also well known for signs and preaching that carried religious messages, but Ransome wrote that “lately he had been holding signs for political campaigns,” including a state legislator named Lena Taylor, who launched an unsuccessful campaign for Milwaukee mayor.
O’Donnell said the shooting occurred in front of Trammell’s business, which is called Expressions Journal Publications and is “covered in handmade signs,” including most prominently signs saying, “Vote Donald Trump 2020” and “Re-Elect Trump 2020.”
“Detectives are investigating the possibility” that Trammell “was killed over his political beliefs,” O’Donnell wrote, adding that police told him the suspect drove up, shot Trammell and then drove off.
According to O’Donnell, Trammell “spent the past few weeks advocating for Trump’s re-election in his neighborhood and in front of City Hall in downtown Milwaukee.”