Black Lives Matter Mississippi activists in Forrest County, Miss., are demanding “justice” and “transparency” after they say a Hattiesburg Police Officer shot a 14-year-old Black boy “multiple times,” including in the stomach, near Hattiesburg High School last Wednesday. They say he is now in a local ICU.
Around two dozen BLM activists protested outside Hattiesburg City Hall this afternoon. They noted that WAPT 16, a Jackson-based ABC News affiliate, reported last week that “a man was shot by a Hattiesburg Police Officer”—not a boy.
“It doesn’t even matter that he’s Black at this point. He’s a 14-year-old boy. … And then the news put out that he was a man, and we’re tired of our kids being adultified,” BLM Mississippi’s Anastassia Doctor said as she broadcast live to Facebook outside Hattiesburg City Hall this afternoon.
But in the five days since the shooting, law enforcement has offered little clarity about what happened outside the high school and has not addressed another claim by BLM Mississippi that the officer involved in the shooting was wearing “civilian clothes” at the time.
Activists: Teen in ICU ‘Fighting for His Life’
In a statement on Jan. 27, the department said only that police had “responded to a report of an individual brandishing a weapon near Hattiesburg High School at Hutchinson and 4th Street just before 8 a.m.” and that officers “located the weapon near West 5th and Oliver and attempted to make contact with him.”
“At that time, shots were fired,” HPD said in the vague statement, which did not identify who had fired the shots or if more than one person did so. The statement also does not identify the shooting victim’s name, age, gender or specify what kind of “weapon” they were allegedly carrying.
By press time, neither HPD nor Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker’s office had responded to requests for comments for this story.
In a statement late last night announcing today’s protest, Black Lives Matter Mississippi President Reginald Virgil demanded more information from law enforcement.
“There is no excuse to shoot a child multiple times leaving him in the ICU fighting for his life. There’s no excuse for the Hattiesburg Police Department and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to be vague about the facts when releasing information to the media,” Virgil said. “He is not a ‘man’ or just a ‘person’—he is a young 14-year-old boy.”
‘MBI Does Not Identify the Officers Involved’
HPD said in the Jan. 27 statement that the individual “was transported from the scene to a local hospital to be treated for injuries” and that the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is now investigating the shooting.
In a separate statement later that day, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation confirmed that the agency is investigating “an officer-involved shooting of a male subject” in Forrest County.
“MBI Special Agents are gathering evidence as part of this ongoing investigation and will share their findings with the local District Attorney’s office. … MBI does not identify the officers involved in these types of incidents,” the agency’s Jan. 27 statement says.
Identifying officers who shot someone within 72 hours of the incident is considered a national standard both to inform the public and maintain community trust, a guide for law-enforcement leaders published by the U.S. Department of Justice recommends.
After a spate of eight officer-involved shootings starting soon after Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba took office in 2017, including by officers who had shot multiple people, Mississippi’s capital city recently went through a year-long process to determine how quickly the City should identify officers involved in a shooting.
By the end of the process, the task force settled on a window of 72 hours in most cases, but has deferred cases to MBI, which does not follow the same national transparency standard.
MBI did not return a request for comment for this story. The Forrest County District Attorney’s Office told the Mississippi Free Press today that it currently has no information to offer.
Local TV news station WDAM reported today that the shooting victim is a “teenager,” saying its reporting was relying on the activists for information about the incident because neither HPD nor MBI would confirm that information officially.
The Hattiesburg Public School District said in a statement last week that the shooting occurred “off campus” before classes began and that school officials are “cooperating” with MBI’s investigation.
‘A Sense of Shock in the Black Community’
Protests over allegations of police brutality against Black residents are not new for Forrest County, where a slim majority of residents voted last November for a Confederate monument to remain standing next to the Forrest County Courthouse in majority-Black Hattiesburg.
Last summer, Black Lives Matter activists protested for the resignation of nearby Petal’s mayor, Hal Marx, for remarks he made about George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Minn. The activists also demanded “justice” for Marc Davis—a Black man whom a Petal Police officer fatally shot in 2017.
MBI investigated the shooting in 2017 and said they found no wrongdoing, but a witness last year disputed Petal Police’s version of events in an interview with the Mississippi Free Press, saying that no one had interviewed her about what she had seen.
Last June, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a civil suit that Davis’ widow, Yoshanta Albert, filed against the City of Petal and the officer who shot Davis.
In BLM Mississippi’s statement last night about last week’s shooting, the organization issued a list of immediate demands, including the “resignation and arrest of the police officer” involved; body cameras for officers whether “in uniform or not”; and “full transparency” from Hattiesburg Police and MBI.
“This horrendous act of police brutality has invoked a sense of shock in the Black community and (is) once again causing overwhelming emotional distress,” Virgil said in the Dec. 31 statement. “How long must we wait until justice is served, law enforcement is held accountable and transparency is given to the people?”
Correction: An earlier version of the headline that did not appear on the website, but did appear in the social media previews for the story, noted that activists said an officer or officers shot the teenage suspect “five times.” Neither Hattiesburg Police nor the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations responded to a request for comment and the Mississippi Free Press could not confirm the exact number of times the teen was shot or how many officers were involved. The social media preview has been corrected to note only “multiple” shots.