*The following is an opinion column by R Muse*
Over the past few years there has been such an abundance of news stories about unarmed African Americans being gunned down by police officers with veritable impunity that it is stunning when the criminal justice system actually appears to work for the victim. Last week there was another unarmed African American shot dead in Raleigh North Carolina by an alleged “neighborhood watch” member that is as close to the circumstances surrounding the senseless murder of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman as could be imagined. Where the similarities stop are in the case of a white guy with a gun, Chad Copley, killing an unarmed African American man, Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas, and the shooter being charged with 1st degree murder.
Mr. Thomas and a friend were in the process of leaving a party in Raleigh because there were no ladies in attendance. The pair didn’t get off the premises before a 39-year-old white man, Chad Copley, shot Mr. Thomas from his garage and through a window in the door. Copley claimed, like George Zimmerman that he was simply performing his neighborhood watch duty and securing his neighborhood from the ‘hoodlums’ attending his neighbor’s party.
In the 911 call recording, Copley tells the dispatcher to send a police car because he was “locked and loaded” and was going outside to confront a group of “hoodlums” (African American males) attending the neighbor’s party. Copley told the dispatcher “We got a bunch of hoodlums out here racing. I’m going outside to secure my neighborhood.”
Likely astonished at what she had just heard, the dispatcher responded by asking, “You’re going to do what?”
Copley attempted to set up his legal defense prior to committing murder by saying:
“I’m going to secure my neighborhood. I’m on neighborhood watch. I am going to have the neighborhood meet these hoodlums out here racing up and down the street. It’s 1 in the morning. There’s some devil in them. They have firearms and we’re going to secure our neighborhood. If I was you, I would send PD out here as quickly as possible.”
Within a couple of minutes, the racist was back on the phone telling the 911 dispatcher:
“I yelled at them, please leave the premises. They were showing firearms, so I fired a warning shot and uh, we got somebody that got hit. … I fired my warning shot like I’m supposed to by law. … They do have firearms, and I’m trying to protect myself and my family.”
When the dispatcher attempted to glean more information like asking, “Who’s been shot, how badly are they injured — and where, exactly, is the victim,” Copley responded,
“Please just send a car. There’s friggin’ black males outside my friggin’ house with firearms. Please, send PD. Thank you.”
When officers arrived, they found 20-year-old African American Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas dying of a gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead at a hospital a short time later. Although some details of the fatal confrontation were unclear, the responding Raleigh police say Copley, who is white, fired at Mr. Thomas from inside his garage.
After questioning, Copley was transported to Wake County jail where he was rightly arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Copley could face the death penalty if convicted unless his legal defense team invokes the “em>white privilege” defense at which time he will be declared innocent and hailed by conservatives as a great American hero. That is, after all, how it typically works when a white guy with a gun shoots and kills an unarmed African American.
Police reported that no-one was armed. And common sense informs that with a friend laying near the street dying and no indication the shooter was finished “securing his neighborhood,” it is extremely unlikely there was even one “friggin’ black male” outside Mr. Copley’s house intending harm to him or his family “with firearms.”
Thankfully the police were privy to Copley’s 911 call and discovered Copley had actually “secured his neighborhood” from the friendly confines of his garage. In fact, according to a report by the News and Observer, at the scene where Mr. Thomas was killed “glass lay in the driveway and front lawn where the blast came through the window. Blood stains and bloody gauze were left in the yard a few feet from the street.” Obviously, Copley did not go out to confront the ‘hoodlums’ with his neighborhood watch team to secure his neighborhood; he hid in his garage and gunned down Mr. Thomas as he had planned from the minute he called 911. Don’t believe it?
In the recording of the first 911 call, at the 22 second mark Copley can be heard clearly saying “I’m a kill em” in referring to what he claimed were “hoodlums.” Hoodlum, like “thug” is white racist code for African American males.
Despite the clarity of Copley’s purpose in being “locked and loaded” to “secure his neighborhood” his attorney Raymond C. Tarlton released a statement urging the community to be fair to his poor client, and not jump to conclusions:
“We have seen too many wrongful convictions for anyone or any organization to jump to conclusions on the basis of someone being charged. We have just gotten involved and are at the beginning stages of our investigation. We urge restraint and that folks not rush to judgment. At this point we cannot say anything more.”
Frankly, Mr. Tarlton cannot possibly have much to say in his client’s defense at any point in “their investigation” that will change the premeditation of murder. At no stage of the defense’s involvement will he be able to alter that 911 police recording of Copley saying “I’ma kill em’” or that he was “locked and loaded” to go “secure his neighborhood” with a firearm from inside his garage and through a door’s window.
Law enforcement officials say there was no neighborhood watch group in the neighborhood and if there was, police counsel residents strongly to call the police if they see suspicious activity and under no circumstances attempt to take matters into their own hands.
Although it appears the early stages in the criminal justice system process may provide justice for Mr. Thomas and signal a possible turning point in holding armed citizens to account for killing unarmed and innocent African Americans, one is reticent to hold out much hope. However, at least the shooter is being held in jail and faces the death penalty if convicted. It is not that the death penalty solves anything, it doesn’t solve anything. But at least in this case the shooter has to face the prospects of losing his freedom forever because he wantonly killed an innocent and unarmed African American man confident that he would walk away a free man like George Zimmerman.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.