A few blocks away from the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, a collective of African-American community organizations and leaders gathered today at Englewood Baptist Church to express concerns in the wake of last week’s shooting, in which officers rained a shower of gunfire upon 60-year-old Roy Middleton in his own driveway.
“Even if you are out hunting a deer, you wouldn’t shoot 17 times,” said Ellison Bennett, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “—we told him to comply and he didn’t, so it’s hunting season.”
Ellison reiterated the collective’s sentiment, saying he was “sick and tired of the bigotry and the racism and hatred shown toward our brothers and sisters.” The incident was described as “attempted murder,” and calls were made for the involved officers—Deputy Jeremiah Meeks and Sergeant Matt White—to be relieved from duty.
A week ago, sheriff officers responded to an early morning call regarding a possible carjacking. When they encountered Middleton—who it turns out was looking for a cigarette in his car parked in his driveway—the officers pocked the house and car with bullet holes, and sent the victim to the hospital with two gunshot wounds to the leg.
During a press conference Monday, Sheriff David Morgan attributed the number of shots—which he places at 15—to “officer anxiety” and said Middleton had not responded to commands and had “lunged” at officers. The sheriff also noted the high call-volume the ECSO responds to in the Warrington area, and later made statements during a media interview that the incident had garnered national attention because Middleton is black.
Such statements—in addition to describing Middleton as both victim and suspect—are not playing well in the African-American community. Civil Rights-icon H.K. Matthews said today that the sheriff is “totally insensitive to what’s happening in our community,” and noted a “cowboy-mentality, where you shoot first and ask questions later.” Bennett connected the mentality to the Trayvon Martin incident—“you think Trayvon would have been murdered if he’d been a white kid with a hoodie on going through that neighborhood?”—and contended that the number of shots pointed toward an “intent to kill.”
“Sheriff Morgan, you insult our intelligence to refer to this brother as a suspect,” said Mustafaa Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam, addressing the sheriff via a television camera. “He could have died. A mother could have lost her son. We could have been here under different circumstances.”
Members of the African-American collective said they didn’t think the officers would have responded in such a way if Middleton was white. They painted the incident as a piece of a larger puzzle.
“We have to get to the root of the problem,” Muhammad said, alluding to the ECSO’s assertion that the officers felt threatened. “When you see a black man or African-American, what makes you feel uncomfortable—that you feel threatened, that you shoot him 17 times?”