Photo: Cara McClure
Seven months after protests shut down the Alabama mall where a police officer shot and killed EJ Bradford, prosecutors are seeking justice against the troublemakers who disturbed the way of life in the idyllic southern suburb…
The people who were protesting.
On Nov. 22, 2018, a police officer in the Birmingham, Ala., suburb of Hoover shot and killed 21-year-old Emantic Bradford Jr. at the Galleria Mall. Hours later, Hoover Police Department officials issued a statement and held a press conference announcing that Bradford was killed because he opened fire in the crowded mall during Thanksgiving night shopping.
That was not true.
Police later admitted that another man was the active shooter and revealed that Bradford, a licensed gun owner, did not fire his weapon before police shot him. After the incident, local activists initiated a series of guerilla-style demonstrations including shutting down the city’s busiest highways, convening at the mayor’s home and holding silent protests at the city’s biggest retailers, essentially halting the holiday shopping season. The protesters were demanding that law enforcement officials and the mall release footage of the deadly incident and conduct an independent investigation. The ingenious pop-up protests cost businesses in Hoover millions of dollars in lost revenue and created a game of whack-a-mole where police had no idea where the activists would strike next.
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To combat the calls for justice, the Hoover Police Department enlisted the help of officers from surrounding agencies to arrest protesters for crimes ranging from trespassing to disorderly conduct. After Alabama’s attorney general announced that Bradford’s shooting was justified, AL.com reported that a group of activists called the Birmingham Justice League reached a truce with Hoover after city officials agreed to a list of demands that included creating a Civilian Review Board, hiring a diversity officer and granting clemency to protesters.
Now authorities insist they never agreed to anything and are moving forward with prosecuting the protesters.
“There were no deals. There were no overtures from us,” City Administrator Allan Rice told the Hoover Sun in February. “We didn’t go behind closed doors and cut any deals with protesters. We didn’t make any promises.”
Cara McClure was one of many citizens who were arrested during the nonviolent demonstrations. McClure was charged with third-degree criminal trespassing after participating in a silent banner drop inside the Galleria Mall in December.
“I was holding a sign that read ‘EJ was murdered here,’” McClure told The Root. “[A police officer] walked right past the white protester who was holding the other end of the sign and came straight to me.”
McClure, who conducts training sessions for activists, said she was aware that local rules stipulated that a person could be charged with trespassing after being asked to leave twice. After the second time she was asked to leave the property, she states that she turned to tell the other protesters that she was leaving when she was placed in handcuffs. McClure explained that she was involved in the protests because she sympathizes with April Pipkins, Bradford’s mother.
“I have a child the same age and I felt compelled to support her in this way,” McClure explained.
When McClure and six other protesters appeared in court for a pre-trial hearing on Wednesday, they were stunned to discover that prosecutors planned to pursue the criminal charges. According to McClure, she was given the option of pleading guilty, entering a deferred prosecution program that would clear the charges from her record after she paid $1,000 in fines and fees, or taking the trial to a jury.
“My main concern was to get [the case] out of Hoover courts,” McClure said. “I never expected this.”
The seven activists decided to take their cases before a Jefferson County judge hoping for a more sympathetic jury in the county, which is 58.5 percent black. Along with McClure, the other protesters who will face trial include:
Carlos Chaverst, Jr., one of the protest organizers,Martez Files, who was arrested for disorderly conduct during the banner protest,Sherette Spicer, for participating in a protest that shut down an Alabama interstate.Mark Myles, for the highway protestAnne Diprizio, for the highway protestMartez Parker, for demonstrating at a Hoover Target.
After the hearing, two of those protesters, Chaverst and Myles, were transported to a jail in another Birmingham suburb to face charges there.
“I’m just nervous now,” McClure told The Root. “But I know they’re just doing this to make a statement and appease their residents.”
If there’s anything the Hoover Police Department is bad at, it’s making statements.
The Root’s attempts to reach Hoover city officials went unanswered.