“Woman hold her head and cry / ‘cause her son had been shot down in the street and died”
— “Johnny Was” (Bob Marley)
A 23-year-old African-American male college student is shot by a security guard, allegedly, in self defense.
For three days the body lies in the morgue, a nameless “John Doe.” Weeks later, the mourning family and friends are still left with more questions than answers.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
While this may seem like a scene from “CSI Miami,” it is really happening in Durham, NC.
Last weekend, I attended the Protest for Justice for Deandre Ballard, the N.C. Central University student shot by a security guard at Campus Crossings apartment complex Sept. 17 under mysterious circumstances. As I spoke with friends and family members, they all said the same thing, “Dre never bothered anybody.”
This is different than the narrative that usually follows such shootings — that the victim had “challenges but was trying to turn his life around.” And since the police could not identify his fingerprints, apparently he had no priors. Those with whom I spoke all seemed to have the same questions, “what really happened, and why?”
As a black man, I can emphasize. It may be hard for some of y’all to believe, but run-ins with those who are sworn to protect and serve can happen to black men for no reason at all.
Now, besides my fetish for snatching the “do not remove under penalty of law” tags off of pillows at Walmart when no one’s looking, I’ve always been a law-abiding type of guy. However, in my 20s I moved into an apartment complex where the homies and I would take a leisurely walk every evening. That was until a security firm was hired and our evening constitutionals became more like walking past the guards mean muggin’ us from the watchtower.
So, to answer the eternal question, yes, bad things can happen to good people. Ms. Ballard is not the first mother to go through this and unfortunately won’t be the last.
There are many cases, nationally, where black men have died under strange conditions. A prime example is Trayvon Martin, who, in 2012, was killed by George Zimmerman. More recently, Botham Jean was killed by a Dallas police officer. allegedly a case of mistaken residency. Not to mention, the controversial deaths of African Americans and Latinos under the watch of law enforcement right here in Durham that have faded from the general public’s memory.
At the last City Council meeting, thanks to the issue being raised by some concerned citizens, Durham’ s public officials assured the audience that the case was under investigation. But as we all know, the window of opportunity to get to the bottom of such cases is very short. The flood of public concern recedes rather quickly as people’s minds shift to football games and holiday vacations. leaving the victim’s family to suffer through an empty chair at Thanksgiving and unopened gifts under the Christmas tree.
I don’t know what happened on that warm summer night at Campus Crossings but those with a license to be an on-the-spot judge, jury and executioner must undergo a higher level of scrutiny, whether police officers, security guards or overzealous home owner association representatives in stand-your-ground states. No mother should have to go through the pain of having her child lying in a cold morgue for three days before she is notified.
DeAndre Ballard is not alive to speak his truth, so we must raise the questions on his behalf and demand transparency. If not we will again be left with, in the words of Black Panther martyr Fred Hampton, “answers that don’t answer, explanations that don’t explain and conclusions that don’t conclude.”
Paul Scott’s columns appear on the first and third Saturday of the month. Follow him at NoWarningShotsFired.com or on Twitter @NWSF