Johnathan A. Ferrell, the 24-year old former college football player of Tallahassee’s Florida A&M University, had just dropped off one of his friends at his house near the Bradfield Farmer neighborhood of Charlotte-Mecklenberg, North Carolina during the early morning hours of September 14th before turning to drive down Reedy Creek Road. It wasn’t too long afterward at around 2:00 a.m. when, for reasons unknown, Ferrell suddenly lost control of the Toyota Camry he was driving and veered off the road, passing over a ditch and through the trees. This singular-vehicle wreck was so disastrous that investigators would later conclude that, in order for Ferrell to have survived the crash, he must have had to struggle immensely to be able to pull himself to the front end of the vehicle (which was completely crushed in, as seen in the photograph below) to the back end. He then had to kick through the back window, drag himself out of it, “make his way through the thicket of brush and woods“, and still managed to retain enough strength to make his way out into the nearest neighborhood in order to seek out help from local residents. He had no way of knowing that, instead of being greeted by someone who was concerned about the critical condition he was in and would help him get the urgent care he was in need of, he’d be greeted only with suspicion, treated as a dangerous threat who deserved nothing less than elimination – even as he struggled against all odds so that he could live to see another day.
At approximately 2:30 a.m. that very morning, Mecklenberg resident Sarah McCartney heard a loud knock at her front door and, noticing the time, thought it surely must be her husband arriving home late from work. When she opened the door, however, she was shocked to see it was not her husband after all but instead an unknown African American man. Upon seeing him she immediately shut the door in his face and ran off to look for one of her husband’s guns. When she couldn’t find any of them she called 911 to report what she believed was someone “breaking and entering” into her home. In her own words, “I woke up around 2:30 a.m., and there was a strange man kicking and banging violently on the door… I feared for my life and my son’s life.” Apparently this “strange man” startled her so much that the possibility that he might have been injured or in need of help never even crossed her mind. (It seems a bit odd in retrospect; it isn’t exactly common practice for burglars or “harm-doers” to announce their arrival by first knocking on the front door so loudly, or in her words “viciously”, that the neighbors could possibly hear and alert the police.) The extent to which she was frightened is clear from the phone call she made to the police, in which she can be heard frantically yelling, “I need help!!” She goes on to explain to the Operator that a man, whom she describes as “a black male”, is trying to break into her home. “Oh my God! He’s in the front yard yelling… He’s trying to get in,” she cries. However, investigators later determined that there was absolutely no evidence that Ferrell ever at any point “made any threats or tried to rob the woman.” Regardless of the facts, McCartney was apparently thrilled when she saw the cop cars arriving. Quietly, she is heard saying to herself, “Oh, please let them get him!” Unfortunately, they would.
Three Officers, who were dispatched by the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department, arrived at the scene ten minutes after Sarah McCartney made the call, only to find that their suspect was no longer in front of the McCartney residence. Instead he was walking down Reedy Creek still desperately searching for someone to help him. When he saw the flashing lights coming down the street, Ferrell felt certain that Officers of the Law would get him the emergency care he needed. And so, in spite of his injuries, he began to run towards the police as fast as he could (which couldn’t have been all that fast considering the condition he was in). Footage later obtained from dash-camera video showed that at one point Ferrell stopped running to lift up his pant-legs, to show the officers he carried no weapons on him. The street lights were so brightly-lit that night that it would have been plainly obvious to everyone who was there that Ferrell was indeed completely unarmed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until after he disappeared from the cameras’ view that any of the cops yelled at Ferrell with instructions to “stop!” What happened next only the three Mecklenberg police officers – Randall “Wes” Kerrick, Adam Neal and Thornell Little – are alive to tell us about.
Of the three officers named, sufficient information has come to light about only one of them, Randall Kerrick. Even though 27-year old “Wesley” Kerrick had always dreamed of having a successful career in Law Enforcement (like several members of his family), he actually got his start working as an officer in the much less glamorous department of “animal control” back in 2010. It wasn’t until April, 2011 that Kerrick finally got the big break he’d been waiting for and was hired to be a “crime fighter” for the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department. Blogger Jeff Winbush put it better than anyone else when he noted on his blog, “That had to be a step up in prestige for Officer Kerrick; going from hunting down runaway poodles to gunning down accident victims.”
Regardless of the condition Jonathan Ferrell was in that night, it’s apparent that none of the cops had even the slightest amount of human compassion for the accident-victim as he ran towards them seeking their help. The first thing they, instead of identifying themselves or why they were there, was to shock him with a taser or “stun-gun”, but this apparently wasn’t enough to satisfy the sadistic thrill cops seem to relish in situations like this. Then, without a moment’s hesitation, Officer Kerrick reached for his pistol and fired off twelve bullets directly aimed at Jonathan Ferrell; a total of ten of them riddled through his body before he fell lifeless to the ground. As it later emerged, it wasn’t until after the first shot rang out that officers finally yelled for Ferrell to “get on the ground!“
The amount of time it took in the immediate aftermath of the shooting for the Department to bring an actual charge against one of its own officers was a shock to almost all observers, even if the charge is only for “voluntary manslaughter” instead of “first-degree murder”, as it undoubtedly would be for a non-police officer. After all, not a single CMPD Cop whose shot someone while on duty has been given any sort of charge for over thirty years! While at first, department officials insisted that all three officers conducted themselves in a way that was “appropriate and lawful”, they quickly backtracked and had to conclude that Officer Kerrick used “excessive force.” The “voluntary manslaughter” charge, oddly enough, is reserved for cases in which “imperfect self-defense” is used, and carries a minimum sentence of three years. Despite concerns that the charge is too lenient, the fact that charges were brought at all was sufficient enough to draw the ire of the Fraternal Order of Police, the notorious police union most famous for its rabid opposition to anyone perceived as being supportive of former Black Panther Party member Mumia Abu Jamal. The FOP wasted no time in deciding to foot the bills for Kerrick’s legal defense (that presumably includes a portion of Kerrick’s $50,000 bail bond). The local Chapter of the Charlotte NAACP, on the other hand, is calling the “voluntary manslaughter” charge out for what is, and believe it should be upgraded to a full murder charge. Local members of the NAACP know better than anyone what the charges would have been for Ferrell had he been the one to survive and any of the officers wound up wounded on the ground instead. For his part, North Carolina’s Attorney General has promised to conduct a full, thorough investigation before deciding if felony charges are appropriate. However, if history is anything to judge by, it isn’t very likely that felony charges will be coming Kerrick’s way, nor is it likely that he will be convicted of anything at all let alone “voluntary manslaughter.”
The media attempts to tarnish Ferrell’s name that are certain to come in the near future will assuredly be in vain. His good nature and overall generous character is something attested to by everyone who knew him. (*) When Ferrell’s former coach at Florida A&M, Earl Homes, was first informed of what happened he exclaimed, “Not Jonathan!” “That wasn’t Jonathan,” he said in disbelief. “He was a genuinely good person. He gave you everything he had…” He also noted, very awkwardly I might add, that “God doesn’t make any mistakes, I know, but a lot of times bad things happen to good people…” Former college roommate and teammate John Ojo was shocked and devastated by the news, and said it would be completely out of Ferrell’s character to act in a way that was threatening or violent towards anybody. “It doesn’t make sense,” Ojo said in disbelief. Another teammate, Gregory Boler, added, “He wasn’t really the aggressive type. He was a good guy, easy to talk to… He just liked to be around friends.” And as soon as Ferrell’s family received word that their loved one had been murdered, they made their way from Tallahassee, Florida to Charlotte, North Carolina – the city where Jonathan Ferrell had moved only a year earlier to be near his fiance. At a hearing that took place on September 16th, Georgia Ferrell, Jonathan’s mother, held Jonathan’s favorite childhood toy in her arm, a Winnie the Pooh bear, a gift she said she intended to give to Ferrell’s first child when he or she was born. She shared how she’d last spoke with her son on the telephone the day before he was killed, and he’d told her how happy he was with the way his life was going. He was working two retail jobs and saving up to return to college after the marriage ceremony. His brother Frank said that Jonathan “had dreams of being an automotive engineer. He wanted to design a car from the very last bolt to the interior.” And in the words of the family’s lawyer, “He’s engaged to be married; he has a dog and a cat; he was driving a Toyota Camry; he survived an accident, had a 3.7 GPA; a Chemistry major. This is not someone who posed a threat to the officers or anyone else; this is an everyday American.” The most heart-wrenching testimony of all, however, came once again from Ferrell’s mother Georgia when, with tears streaming down her face, she addressed Officer Kerrick directly, telling him, “You took a piece of my heart that I can never put back.” This entire experience has numbed her feelings. “I want my son to bury me,” she said. “I do not want to bury him.”
In the meantime, members of the Charlotte-Mecklenberg community have been quite taken aback by the entire incident. It isn’t all that clear, however, whether their shock is the result of someone being killed by a cop in their community, or if it’s the result the cop responsible for the killing actually being charged with it. The death of Ferrell, after all, is at least the 6th shooting carried out by Charlotte-Mecklenberg police officers since the start of 2012 and the first time an officer was called to account for it. There is a certain amount of naiveté among residents of the Bradfield Farmer neighborhood where Ferrell was fatally shot, especially when it comes to the practices and motives of the Police Force. What else could explain Sarah McCartney’s assertion that what happened to Ferrell was “a tragedy for everybody involved”? What other than fear and naivety could account for the negative aspersions cast on Jonathan Ferrell, albeit subtly, by Mecklenberg resident Karen Rauss who, contrary to all evidence, believes he must have somehow provoked Officer Kerrick to kill him? That’s what she implies when she makes comments like, “It’s hard to believe three officers and one man, unarmed, and something like this happens… I thought it was a tragedy, but there are a lot of questions that need to be answered before the police officer goes on trial.” (Strange, and here I thought these “trials” were held precisely so that these “questions [can] be answered.”) Thankfully, there are still voices in the community that aren’t afraid of speaking truth to power, such as that of Reverend Kojo Nantambu. Natambu, the leader of the Charlotte Chapter of the NAACP, is on a mission not to let the pro-police propaganda cloud out what’s really at stake here. “This was a brutal killing and execution of Jonathan Ferrell,” he said in a statement delivered September 16th. “There is no evidence that shows Jonathan Ferrell should have been shot at all; but for Officer Kerrick to shoot 12 times and striking Mr. Ferrell 10 times indicates more than a reflex; it smells more of hatred and rage, which shows Mr. Kerrick was predisposed in killing a Black man and did so with extreme prejudice.” My sentiments exactly.
* WCNC, after conducting a meticulous (and unnecessary) search of Ferrell’s record, could locate only one charge, a battery charge, from back in 2011. They could not say whether this even resulted in a conviction, only that his bail was set at $500.