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1:36 pm
Wed September 18, 2013

N.C. Officer Charged In Death Of Unarmed Black Man

A North Carolina police officer has been charged with voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of an unarmed black man.

Officer Randall Kerrick of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department fired 12 shots, ten of which hit 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell, according to authorities.

Ferrell, who had played football for Florida A&M University, was seeking help after crashing his car, according to authorities.

When he knocked on a woman’s door, she called 911 — alarmed to find Ferrell on her doorstep.

When officers arrived at the scene, authorities say Ferrell ran toward officers. When a Taser failed to stop his approach, Kerrick fired.

Now, Reuters reports, civil rights leaders are demanding that video footage of the incident be made public.

Guest

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Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

The NAACP is questioning whether race played a role in the shooting death of an unarmed black man by a white police officer in Charlotte, North Carolina. Officer Randall Kerrick is charged with voluntary manslaughter for shooting 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell. He shot him 10 times. That was the end of a series of events that began sometime after 2 AM. on Saturday. Ferrell had been in a single car accident. He knocked on the door of a nearby home for help, but the homeowner panicked and called 911. Here's a clip of that call.

(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I need help. There's a guy breaking in my front door.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: There's a guy breaking in your front door?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah, he's trying to kick it down.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: OK. Where is he at the house?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: He is still there yelling. Oh, my god.

CHAKRABARTI: Mary Curtis is a freelance journalist based in Charlotte. She's covering the story for The Washington Post. And, Mary, so that was the 91 call - 911 call that triggered the events that ended in the death of Jonathan Ferrell. But what do we know about what happened in between?

MARY CURTIS: Well, we don't know a lot, but the picture is starting to come clear. That 911 tape - a frantic tape - that started this chain of encounters, and it led to a very sad ending. He was an unarmed, 24-year-old man who just moved to Charlotte about a year ago. He apparently crashed his car. He climbed out the back window, knocked on the door. The woman didn't recognize him, called police. Three officers responded. And when Ferrell approached them, one fired a taser that apparently didn't work, and one fired 12 shots, and 10 hit him.

Now, Police Chief Rodney Monroe is also an African-American, and the department did act swiftly and did charge Officer Kerrick with voluntary manslaughter. And he has said that based on video and interviews with the officers, that even the first shot was unwarranted. Now, of course, Kerrick's attorneys say the shooting was justified, and evidence will bear that out.

CHAKRABARTI: Right.

CURTIS: And Ferrell's family has hired lawyers, and they viewed the video, as well, and they say it shows that he was not armed, and he was not a threat. Ferrell's mother...

CHAKRABARTI: Now, Mary, if I may.

CURTIS: Go on.

CHAKRABARTI: I'm sorry to interrupt there. But, I mean, in your reporting, you accurately remind us that this is an ongoing investigation, and there are many unanswered questions: Was Ferrell running towards the officers? Why didn't the other officers - the two others who responded - pulled their firearms, et cetera. So we want to acknowledge that this is an active investigation.

But as we mentioned in the introduction here, the NAACP says that race - they say that race did play a role here. So what's the community saying about that?

CURTIS: Well, the NAACP, the ACLU, other citizens' groups, they're putting it in a broader context. Charlotte's a city that's all for dialogue, but they want results, at this point. They want a beefed-up Citizens Review Board.

They head of the local NAACP said: Why is it that black males are never given the benefit of the doubt? Perhaps he was running to get help. How come he was seen as a threat? Ferrell's mother, who came to this city, she held a press conference while she was holding a little Winnie the Pooh doll. She said it was his favorite. He was a former Florida A&M football player. He worked two jobs. He was about to get married. And I think she wanted everyone to see him through her eyes, as this hardworking man, gentle giant, a very loving person and brother.

And I think that's the piece of it, that people feel that they want the community and the police and others to see black males as full-dimensional people, and not as a threat. So both the community and those outside of the community will be looking at it. And they don't want him to join this roll call, as the NAACP head said, of the Trayvon Martins, the Sean Bells, Amadou Diallos, all too many that are unarmed.

CHAKRABARTI: Too many names to count, yeah, at this point in time.

CURTIS: Yeah. So...

CHAKRABARTI: Mary Curtis is a Washington Post contributor, based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Mary, thank you so much.

CURTIS: Thank you for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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