In January 2017, Ronnie Shorter called to check in on his mom before he went to bed. He heard a noise outside his house, so he asked his mom if he could call her right back to check to see what the noise was. Right outside of his home, Greenville, Miss., police officers shot Ronnie numerous times and killed him.
More than three years later, this is all the information the family has.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation determined the killing was “justified,” but provided only a heavily redacted report to back up that determination. Requests through Mississippi’s public records laws have not given the family any real information about his death, either. Press reports said that a grand jury declined to indict any of the officers but offered no reasons as to why.
The only thing his family knows for sure about Ronnie’s death is that five officers were involved and that they were responding to an anonymous call saying that shots were fired. Greenville police have said that he came out of his house firing at them. An investigation surely would have shown if that was the case. This family is looking for the facts involved in this case. Because little information has come from state or local governments, they have raised money to fund their own investigation and have filed a case in federal court. For everyone’s sake, all the facts known need to come out. Even the Washington County coroner has joined the family in asking for results of the investigation.
Right now, we as a country are confronting the deep-rooted racism and violence against black Americans. Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. The video of George Floyd’s brutal killing by a Minneapolis police officer has sparked protests nationwide demanding not just justice for him but real progress in ending the systemic use of violence against black Americans and real accountability for those who engage in these horrific acts.
Having a loved one killed by law enforcement is painfully and sadly nothing new for many black families in America and in Mississippi. However, without video showing the events surrounding the deaths, these killings in Mississippi, and elsewhere, go unreported and unrecognized outside circles of impacted family and friends.
There is no reason not to provide the facts and the results of any investigation.
In Petal, a police officer killed Marc Davis while he was standing next to his car after calling 911 asking for help because he had been in an accident. The MBI determined that the officer was not at fault but provided little other information forcing his family to look for answers themselves. This case has taken on special significance since the mayor of Petal recently said that he did not see anything unreasonable about the murder of George Floyd.
Families across Mississippi are forced to fight on their own simply for answers about how and why their loved ones were killed. Anyone can imagine the pain that would cause. At the very least, they deserve this information. There is no reason not to provide the facts and the results of any investigation.
Even in cases that are well known and publicly investigated, justice is hard to come by. Last week, the Mississippi attorney general announced that her office was dropping the charges against a police officer who killed Ricky Ball at a traffic stop in Columbus. The district attorney in Columbus has called the dismissal a “slap in the face.”
When I was state auditor, I made everything available to the public and the press, not only the audits themselves but all the work papers showing how conclusions were reached. I believed then, and still believe now, that the people of Mississippi needed the facts. And those audits were about money—nothing compared to human life. Families of people killed by law enforcement deserve access to the incident report and investigations. They deserve answers for why people they love are dead.
Racist violence and state-sanctioned oppression against its black residents has a long, ugly, and tragic place in Mississippi’s history. We perpetuate this awful legacy when we fail to demand answers and accountability. Not only the families of those killed deserve better, so does Mississippi.
This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information to [email protected]. We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.