“It kills me knowing that he died scared,” said Bennie Edwards’ niece, Ameerah Gaines to a group of protesters Friday night. “He was scared and didn’t know what the fuck was goin’ on.”
Earlier in the afternoon, Edwards, a mentally ill black man who sold flowers on the street, was shot and killed by Oklahoma City Police officers in a shopping center at Hefner Road and N. Pennsylvania Avenue. Police spokespersons would not comment or provide a statement to Free Press Friday evening when asked for one by phone and email.
His niece spoke as she cried in front of a group of about 150 outside the Oklahoma City Police Department headquarters Friday night explaining her uncle’s mental illness and life of selling flowers out on the street.
“He was in the streets because he loved it,” she said. “He liked to meet new people. He loves people. He likes selling his flowers.”
She said that he was bi-polar and schizophrenic losing track of reality often. Some reports said that he was indigent but others close to the family say that he lived with an aunt.
“My uncle was loved!” Gaines insisted seeming to counter some who she said were criticizing her family. “We tried to keep him home. But you can’t keep somebody locked up. Him being out there made him happy. Him selling them flowers made him happy.”
It is still unclear from police statements to television stations what kind of exchange of words happened at the beginning of Edwards’ encounter with officers. But, Gaines fought back tears as she asked why the whole thing happened.
“Why didn’t they try to talk?” Gains said crying. “Because if they had tried to talk to him, they would have saw that he had a problem. He wouldn’t have hurted a fly. He was loving! He was kind!”
An embedded tweet at the end of this report shows the shooting of Bennie Edwards. It has been placed at the end to accommodate those who do not want to see it.
A group of agitated people gathered at the scene of the shooting soon after the shooting. A bystander shot a video of the encounter showing the shooting and posted it to social media.
People at that spontaneous protest told Free Press later that officers who arrived for crowd control eventually used mace on the crowd and took out shotguns loaded with less lethal rounds but never fired on the crowd. (Shotguns loaded with less lethal rounds have brightly-colored stocks to make sure officers and others are clear about what they are shooting.)
Some, including family members who showed up early, said that the body of Edwards laid exposed for nearly two hours before police covered it.
Leaving the body uncovered for hours is reminiscent of when Ferguson, Missouri police had left the body of Michael Brown, Jr. in the street uncovered for four hours after a city officer shot him to death in an altercation August 9, 2014. Residents believed police did not cover the body as a way of threatening the population by example. The Ferguson police chief later apologized to the family.
A series of nightly protests in Ferguson ensued and the Black Lives Matter movement rose out of those protests.
Sheri Dickerson, president of Black Lives Matter – OKC mentioned the fact that they left Edwards’ body “uncovered with no dignity” knowing that family members were there.
At the protest in front of the OCPD Headquarters downtown later, Dickerson described Edwards as “harmless.”
“This man was a gentle spirit,” said Dickerson.
Jabee Williams spoke to the crowd about how perilous life is for Black people in Oklahoma City when they encounter the police.
“My life is more in danger when they call the police than at any other time,” said Williams. “Anytime you call the police on somebody Black, you are putting their lives in danger.”
They have been terrorizing our communities for too long, for too long,” Williams said. “We watched an innocent man lose his life today, y’all. He won’t come back. We can’t bring that back. We watched somebody who was beloved, from the community lose their life tonight. It didn’t have to happen.”
“We can’t sit down, we can’t shut up,” said Williams. “Because, that’s what they want us to do. And if we sit down and shut up, all they will do is continue to kill our people, continue to murder us, and get away with it.”
Free Press will continue to cover this story as it develops further.
WARNING: This video shows the death of Bennie Edwards.