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Black residents rattled, angered in aftermath of fatal shootings near Louisville

By Barrington M. Salmon -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Nov 10, 2018 - 9:32:52 AM

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Vickie Lee Jones, Maurice E. Stallard
News that a White gunman shot and killed two Black victims who were minding their own business in a Louisville, Kentucky, suburb has left African Americans there angered, apprehensive and grasping for answers.

Law enforcement said the man, Gregory Alan Bush, 51, walked into a Kroger store in Jeffersontown on October 24 and shot the first victim, Maurice E. Stallard, 69, in the head then shot him several more times after he fell to the floor.

Mr. Stallard, a military veteran and retired General Electric employee, was shopping with his 12-year-old grandson buying poster board for a school project.

The accused gunman—who has a history of violence—walked out of the store and repeatedly shot 67-year-old Vickie Lee Jones in the parking lot. Mrs. Jones was a retiree with the Veterans Affairs hospital, where she worked as an office administrator. She had stopped at Kroger to pick up some food for her ailing mother.

Gregory Alan Bush was jailed on a $5 million bond on two counts of murder and other charges for the fatal Oct. 24 shooting deaths of Vickie Lee Jones and Maurice E. Stallard on the outskirts of Louisville, Ky. Federal investigators are looking into potential civil rights violations, including hate crimes against Mr. Bush.
Mr. Bush is charged with two counts of murder, 10 counts of wanton endangerment and is being held on $5 million bond. U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman said his office is investigating whether Mr. Bush’s actions were racially motivated and said he could be facing federal hate crime charges.

Jeffersontown Police Chief Sam Rogers said surveillance footage shows Mr. Bush pulling and banging at a door at the First Baptist Church in Jeffersontown prior to the shootings. A church member sitting in the parking lot saw the suspect trying to get inside, a news outlet said.

When he was unable to enter the church, Mr. Bush went to the Kroger. After the shooting, he reportedly told a White bystander, “Whites don’t kill Whites.”

“People are very alarmed and don’t feel safe and some people are more cautious,” said Student Minister Jerald Muhammad of the Nation of Islam’s Louisville mosque, as he discussed community reaction. “Something that has caused some suspicion in the Black community is that they (the media) started saying he has a history of mental illness and are centering on his mental health. There have been several cases of brothers and sisters who had mental illness and they were shot or beaten by the police,” said Student Min. Muhammad.

“Some of our people are buying that, but the activist community isn’t buying it. They are calling on the  mayor to call it a hate crime.”

In the days since the incident, several people said, city officials and law enforcement have stated the likelihood that the murders were a hate crime and are investigating it as such. There has been intense debate in the Black community about this with people like the Louisville Urban League’s Sadiqa Reynolds contending that this shouldn’t even be a question.

The organization called for a hate crime investigation in a Facebook post. Ms. Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, told Here and Now’s Robin Young that members of her community are devastated but are pushing past their fear.

“I thought about Charlottesville, and what we felt across the country,” she said. “We’re worried about our safety and being hunted down and murdered [because] of our color. It is devastating. I mean it’s not the kind of thing that you would expect to happen anywhere … but the truth is that there’s so much hate being stirred in our country, that I guess none of us can ever be caught off guard. But it just feels so painful, and it does feel like an act of terrorism. We can be pushed into so much fear that we don’t want to leave our homes. You can’t feel safe at a grocery store, that you hesitate to check your mail,” said Ms. Reynolds.

“You know, for Black America, we have to push not only through the fear to find our courage, but also this need to stand up and say, ‘What about us,’ what about lowering the flags when we are killed? Are they worthy of the flag lowering? Even when you have a Vickie Jones and a Maurice Stallard (killed), it’s not until you have the synagogue shootings that the White House lowers the flag, so it forces this conversation of, really, show me that Black Lives Matter in America. …”

J. Alexander, a local barber who doesn’t call himself an activist but has worked in the community since 2003, spoke of the seething anger residents feel.

“We’re pissed, man we’re upset,” he said. “There has been vigils, press conferences to address the issue, and meetings to figure out how the community must organize. People were kind of caught off guard and they’re wondering what are elected officials going to do?” he stated.

“The community seems and feels hopeless without anyone saying how to move forward.”

Mr. Alexander said several organizations like Black Lives Matter Louisville and the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression are active and expressing the community’s anger and disaffection and pressuring elected officials to very clearly call the murders a hate crime. It’s not clear what else activists and community members are demanding.

Several residents said that in Louisville there is a wide chasm between the races. Black activists like Chanelle Helm continue to fight for access to a quality education for Black children, decent paying jobs and fighting for restorative justice.

“This is pretty shocking to a lot of people because they didn’t connect what was happening elsewhere to this community,” said Ms. Helm, co-founder and core organizer of Black Lives Matter Louisville.

“Out of this should be some long time organizing for Black liberation. We can’t move forward if we don’t have tribunals, accountability, holding people responsible, holding Black spaces and being unapologetically Black.” 

Local activist Richard Whitlock, 36, who runs the GAP Felony Prevention Program, said Louisville has a long history of racial division and antagonism. “Louisville is one of the top five segregated cities in the country. I’ve been involved for almost a decade here and I don’t know five White people,” he said.

New York Magazine’s Amanda Arnold reports that Louisville’s Black leaders see these responses as lacking. She said Truman Harris of Louisville’s Black Lives Matter told the Courier-Journal that it was “ridiculous” that politicians had not commented on whether the shooting was racially motivated. “It was also an act of terrorism,” Mr. Harris said. “It’s ridiculous that Mayor Fischer, that Matt Bevin, that Mitch McConnell are taking as long as they are in acknowledging this as what it is. If this person was a Black or Brown terrorist, it would have been acknowledged right then and there.” Mr. Bevin is Kentucky’s governor and Mr. McConnell represents the state in the U.S. Senate. Both are Republican’s.

It wasn’t until Oct. 28, during a service at First Baptist Church, that police and politicians acknowledged race as a motivating factor, she said. Jeffersontown Police Chief Sam Rogers said it was “the elephant in the room that some don’t want to acknowledge in this case.” I won’t stand here and pretend that none of us know what could have happened if that evil man had gotten in the doors of this church,” he said. He has described the attacks as “racism in action.”

Mrs. Mattie Jones is a Louisville resident, a longtime Civil Rights activist who marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Rev. Louis Coleman and others who confronted racism, discrimination and Jim Crow beginning when she was 22. She grew up during segregation and Jim Crow, remembers walking past five White schools to get to her school, not being able to go in the front door of department stores and businesses and being denied a job at the University of Louisville.

Mrs. Jones said she is saddened by the murders but added that given the racial tone and tenor of this country, she’s not surprised this happened.

“It was no more than I expected from the climate created by that person in the White House,” she said dryly. “I’m an 85-year-old teenager and I know that racism will never die. My expectation is that the tone created by this president is the reason why we’re in this situation.”

She said Blacks could have avoided this.  “We got so excited about integration, we thought we had arrived. When we sat in offices, ate lunch with White people, moved to the suburbs, we thought we had made it. But we didn’t do the follow-up work. All the time they went back and reorganized. They told the Klansmen to hold back and those in the John Birch Society got into key places and positions in colleges, businesses and elsewhere. You don’t see Klansmen in robes but they’re in the court, colleges with the professors and in police departments. We didn’t know where it came from so we were blindsided, and we didn’t educate our future generations,” she explained.

“Our children have been educated in White universities, marry comfortably outside of our race, sophisticated ministers get wealthy, work with the master, and get a home on the plantation. Uncle Tom and Aunt Jemima ain’t dead. Our children who had two-car garages and were eating with White folks didn’t reach back. They don’t know our history, or the struggle and we really don’t know what we’re dealing with. He (Trump) has created hatred around the world. We have to awaken our people and stop teaching folks that everything is going to be alright when we go to heaven.”

Mrs. Jones said Black Louisville residents have no choice but to fight back on several fronts.

“Right now Louisville should be on its feet,” Mrs. Jones said. “I don’t see the NAACP or any of those organizations out there. I’m a down-home, grassroots person. We need to put ourselves in the courts to monitor them and do the same with police departments,” she said.

“Meanwhile, our churches need to turn the lights on five days a week and educate our children and provide other essential services. Young people need to go to school. We have to go back and re-educate them. Our young generation is sick for knowledge.”