This innocent child.
There's a lot of blame to assign for the death of Secoriea Turner. Cops. Vigilantes. Politicians. More. Mawuli Davis reminds us to remember a dead child who did nothing wrong.
Secoriea Turner was doing exactly what an eight year old girl was supposed to be doing, exactly where she was supposed to be doing it, when someone shot her.
Mawuli Davis, a noted civil rights attorney in Georgia, returns us to think about her, as he had done relentlessly for the last year, to remember the radiance of a child, shining at every cheerleading practice, every birthday party, every TikTok celebration, every gathering with family and friends.
“The bright, beautiful light that she was,” he said, “spilled out when she was shot in the back.”
On Independence Day last year, gunmen had turned the site of the Rayshard Brooks shooting in Atlanta — a former Wendy’s burned to the ground by protesters three weeks earlier — into an armed camp. They had erected a checkpoint on University Avenue in front of the restaurant, denying drivers the road. Sporadic violence erupted from the site during the standoff. People fired into the protest. People fired out of the protest. Two people had already been shot. Others had been attacked … including me.
Police did not intervene.
Around 9:30 p.m., Omar Ivery was driving a green Jeep Cherokee with Charmaine Turner down University Avenue. Secoriea Turner, Charmaine’s daughter, was in the back seat. Ivery came to the checkpoint, tried to drive around it, and the vigilantes shot up the Jeep, hitting Secoriea. She died a few minutes later at Atlanta Medical Center.
The gunmen disappeared. The city knocked the Wendy’s down 10 days later. Police arrested a teenager for the murder — Julian Conley, 19, of Stone Mountain. He says he didn’t shoot her. If the police have ever identified the other people out there that night, we have yet to read it.
The lawsuit filed today by Davis and the Cochran Firm appears to be the first to seek accountability for the “blue flu” sickout by the Atlanta police following the death of Rayshard Brooks and subsequent murder charge filed against officer Garrett Rolfe.
“Records from APD show that between Wednesday June 17, 2020, and Saturday June 20, 2020, a total of 171 APD police officers called out “sick,” the suit states.
I see in two places, the Secoriea Turner lawsuit makes factual allegations relying on my reporting from the protests.
”Following the news of the District Attorney’s charges, Major Kelley Collier sent a memo to APD officers on June 17, 2020 telling officers to refrain from ‘proactive’ policing,” the suit states, quoting my Intercept piece from June 24. “The memo stated as follows: ‘If not, effective immediately, we will operate as police officers and will respond when violence occurs in an officer’s presence and will respond to victims of violence. We will not be overly proactive in any shape, form or fashion. We are concerned about keeping our officers safe and healthy.’”
It also quotes a brief interview with one of the armed vigilantes. “A witness to the June 20th shooting reportedly stated, ‘The police were here when the guy got shot. They saw the guy get shot. They saw the car that was shooting at us, and they didn’t pursue him.’”
Protecting the audio recording of that interview cost me a beating when I refused to hand over my cell phone to the vigilantes.
I cannot rule out the possibility of being called as a witness if this goes to trial.
There’s a lot of blame to assign for Secoriea Turner’s death. The suit names Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, the acting chief of police Rodney Bryant and city councilwoman Joyce Sheperd, who are accused of issuing stand-down orders to the police rather than calling for arrests.
“There was no policing,” Davis said today at a press conference. “You can’t go from shooting a man at the Wendy’s to saying, well you don’t like that, so nothing … If you’re critical of us, then screw you. It doesn’t work like that. You all took an oath.”
The suit also accuses Wendy’s and the franchise owner of negligence for allowing a public safety hazard to emerge on their property.
“The murder of Secoriea Turner, as a result of senseless gun violence, is a tragedy that no family should have to endure,” a spokesman for the city of Atlanta said. Due to the anticipated litigation, the City will offer no further comment, at this time.” Sheperd’s office referred me to the city communications department. I tweeted a question about the suit to Wendy’s (admirable) social media team: I don’t expect to get snark on this one when they reply.
The lawsuit does not name any of the rifle toting vigilantes who blocked off the street.
It also makes no mention of Ashley Brooks — Rayshard Brooks’ sister — who was present on several days of the armed vigilante takeover of the street. Brooks lead the mob on the night I was assaulted, and personally demanded my cell phone as a squad of gunmen formed a semicircle around me. I don’t know if she was present on the night of Secoriea Turner’s death, but she was a regular on the scene and might presumably know who else had been around.
I have been able to identify one other person who was part of the group demanding my phone. The AJC highlighted him in a photo spread during a march at the University Avenue site a week after Turner’s death. He almost certainly gave a fake name to the press for his picture, since there’s no actual connection between that name and a real person. I’m noting this here for later.
I’ve been looking closely at pictures of the people who tried to intimidate me that day. They appear to be wearing apparel connected to the Not Fucking Around Coalition, a Black nationalist militia which marched on Stone Mountain on the morning before Secoriea Turner’s death. Subsequent social media by people close to the protests also connect the vigilantes to the NFAC. “Grandmaster Jay,” John Johnson, a pathologically egotistical failed presidential candidate who rose from obscurity with his leadership of this militia, was arrested in December on federal weapons charges — basically for having bad muzzle discipline around the feds — and has at least publicly instructed his followers to stand down.
That I am playing social media Columbo a year after Turner’s death speaks to how the madness of this event and this summer linger in the air like the smell of cordite and sulphur from flashbangs and tear gas.
This is the cops’ fucking job.
When all of this was going down, I assumed that police were watching things quietly; that they had a drone in the air or an undercover officer on the ground, taking names and pictures and license plate numbers for a longer-term investigation. If that were the case, one would have assumed that they would have made arrests of anyone they knew was out there that night. But here we are a year later, and the police more or less pretend that they didn’t go on vacation while the Black equivalent of the Irish Republican Army spent three weeks with a checkpoint on an American city street. The breakdown in trust between the public and the police started here, with this, and it isn’t going to get better without some accountability.
Atlanta has been tiptoeing around this case because it fractures easy narratives and sets political allies at odds. None of the people demanding justice want to give ammunition to conservative reactionaries yodeling racist unpleasantries from the suburbs about “Black-on-black crime” and “Blue Lives Matter” and how Black people can’t govern themselves. But this was — and is — a failure of governance.
It’s also a little frightening.
Atlanta took about 80 more murders year-over-year than it did last year. About 50 of those murders cannot be explained by the travails of the pandemic and are probably better explained in the context of organized gang violence. Meanwhile, armed and murderous partisans melted back into the population like a rumor.
Is it any wonder, perhaps, why a public that already had reason to distrust cops may be less than cooperative with this investigation right now? I’m idly wondering if someone will want to put a bullet through my window just for writing about this stuff.
But I’m also wondering if I should have done more in the moment to sound the alarm, to tell people that what we were seeing wasn’t just a protest but deeply abnormal, or if I should have actually worked with the police instead of preserving some kind of journalistic neutrality. As I said; there’s no shortage of blame to assign.
Except for Secoriea Turner. She’s the one person to which we all owed something, the one person we’ve failed most profoundly. We are accountable to this child — to all of our children — to get better at being adults than this. We should be taking risks for her, to expiate ours sins for imposing risks on her.