Outrage swelled among local anti-racist protesters after a grand jury last week declined to issue indictments against the Tallahassee, Florida, police officer who fatally shot Tony McDade, a Black trans man, in May.
The grand jury also cleared other officers involved in the fatal shootings of two other Black men in the city this year.
The Tallahassee Community Action Committee and other social justice groups protested after the news broke on September 5, and police responded in riot gear, making around 10 arrests, ABC News reported. Local activists have strongly criticized police’s response to the protests, and an attorney representing the slain men’s families told Heavy that Tallahassee law enforcement has a long way to go to earn the Black community’s trust.
Here’s what you need to know:
McDade Was Shot in a Confrontation With a Tallahassee Officer on May 28; the Officer Has Not Been Named
Natosha “Tony” McDade, 38, was described as gender-nonconforming, although on his Facebook page, he used he/him pronouns.
McDade was shot on May 28 after he pointed a gun at an officer, according to a City of Tallahassee Police Department news release.
McDade “made a move consistent with using the firearm against the officer, who fired their issued handgun, fatally striking the adult female suspect,” the release read, initially misidentifying McDade as female. Police alleged that McDade had just killed 21-year-old Malik Jackson in front of his mother’s apartment.
Jackson’s family is preparing to sue the police department themselves over the response to the incident that left Jackson slain, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
McDade’s marked the third shooting by police in Tallahassee since December 2019. The Tallahassee Community Action Committee organized several protest events, asking that Police Chief Lawrence Revell step down, footage of the shooting be released and the officer be identified.
The Florida Police Benevolent Association requested a court injunction to keep the officer anonymous, according to court records, and the officer was never publicly identified. The grand jury’s documents redact all references to his name.
On September 5, a Grand Jury Declined to Pursue Indictments Against the Officer Who Shot McDade — As Well as 2 Officers Responsible for 2 Other Shootings
Tony McDade, a Black man whose name was forgotten because he was trans, was one of the people killed by officers we still don't know the names of in today's grand jury decision to not press charges against them for his murder.
There was no justice.
And there should be no peace.
— Kilderkin (@RileyGryc) September 4, 2020
In August, a Leon County grand jury met to consider an indictment against the officer who shot McDade, as well as the officers involved in the fatal shootings of Mychael Johnson and Wilbon Woodard, the Associated Press reported.
Johnson was shot and killed on March 20 after, police alleged, he tried to carjack two vehicles, according to Tallahassee Reports. Police said that he violently resisted arrest.
Woodard was shot and killed on May 19 during a confrontation with police, the outlet reported.
According to the grand jury bill in McDade’s case, the jury found that he unnamed officer had reason to fear for his life when McDade produced a weapon:
We find that McDade’s actions made necessary the deadly force used by [the officer]. Specifically, we find that the use of deadly force in this incident was appropriate in accordance with the law and in compliance with the training provided to all law enforcement officers. We thank [the officer] for his willingness to put himself in harm’s way in service to our community.
The City of Tallahassee, after the grand jury verdicts were announced, put body camera footage of the three men’s deaths online, but removed them after outcry from the family of Jackson, who took exception to the McDade video showing Jackson’s body while paramedics were treating him, attorney Mutaqee Akbar told Heavy.
On September 4, Chief Revell said in a statement that he hoped that after the grand jury findings, the community could “heal.”
“I’d like to thank the Grand Jury for its service,” he said. “These citizens provided a valuable service to our community, and I hope that its findings today can help us begin to heal.”
Attorney Mutaqee Akbar Is Representing Families, Including McDade’s, & He Said the Burden Is on Police to Heal the Divide Between Them & the Black Community
Akbar is representing the families of McDade, Johnson and Woodard. He spoke with Heavy on Wednesday afternoon about the cases and police response to the ensuing protests — including one on September 5, at which more than a dozen people were arrested, some being dragged by their hair by police.
Akbar said he believes police used unnecessary force in both McDade and Johnson’s cases.
“There’s a difference between what can be done and what should be done,” he said. “Specifically with McDade, in that situation, law enforcement can react with deadly force. But, I think also in that situation, it’s one where, if they value human life, extra steps should have been taken in order to protect it.”
McDade was suicidal, Akbar said. Indeed, McDade posted a video to Facebook the day of his shooting, claiming to be suicidal and that he planned to commit suicide by being shot by the police.
Still, McDade’s gun was unloaded, according to Akbar, and in the police video, he said, McDade’s mother can be heard screaming to the officers that her son was trying to kill himself.
“We can’t have a situation where someone can rely on law enforcement to kill them,” Akbar said. “That’s what Tony said the night before, and that’s exactly what happened … His purpose was to have them kill him and that’s what happened.”
Officers should have de-escalated the situation, Akbar said: “His first thought was to kill this person, rather than, ‘Let me see if I can take cover and do something to protect his life.'”
— Sophia Carolina Hernandez (@SophiaWCTV) September 5, 2020
On September 5, a large protest over the grand jury’s decision not to charge any of the officers turned tense and resulted in more than a dozen arrests, WCTV reported.
The Tallahassee Community Action Committee’s lead organizer, Trish Brown, was pulled over in a traffic stop and arrested during the protest, WCTV reported.
According to Akbar, police responded to the protest in riot gear for the stated reason that another group of President Donald Trump’s supporters were expected to be in the area and police feared a clash.
Revell told the Tallahassee Democrat that the opposing events were the reason for the heavy, militarized response.
“This for us was a law enforcement horrific event,” he said. “Had those Trump supporters gotten on Monroe Street at the same time this was going on you may have had a different situation.”
Akbar pointed to another recent, racially-charged incident in Tallahassee, in which two Black men and a 10-year-old boy were fired upon by an elderly white couple while returning a U-Haul, as reported by Heavy. In that instance, the white couple were armed and had to be told multiple times to drop their weapons by police, but they were taken into custody peacefully. “It goes back to what you can do and what you should do,” he said.
“There’s a history of police brutality, a history of mistreatment of Black and brown people by law enforcement; a history of over-policing, of militarized police response, and that’s the reason there’s a gap in the relationship between law enforcement and the Black community,” he said. “So, the burden isn’t on the Black community to heal that relationship. It’s on the government and law enforcement to heal that relationship.”
“Granted, the protesters have to be willing to have a sit-down and start that process as well, but I don’t think the burden is on them.”