Montgomery, Alabama: Police Murder of Gregory Gunn

March 7, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

The headline of an article Tuesday, March 1, in the Washington Post read: “‘They stood over him and watched him die:’ Outrage in Montgomery, Alabama, after white officer kills black man.” The article was about the police murder of Gregory Gunn, a 59-year-old Black man, as he was walking to his mother’s house. There truly IS outrage among different sections of Black people—which grew to a crescendo with a confrontation at city hall the day before.

Photo: Special to

There, confronting Gregory’s family, neighbors, Black Lives Matter activists, and elected officials (who have been protesting for days), was Montgomery’s white mayor and their newly recruited [from Atlanta] Black police chief. Gregory’s younger brother Franklin asked for five minutes of silence and reflection, and then with the tears flowing, cried that “had my brother been given five minutes [by the police], none of us would be here!” What was unusual was that this was covered at length, live on local TV, with the whole city watching what was playing out, knowing that the mayor, Todd Strange, had just returned back to the city, forced to cut short his vacation.

Franklin angrily demanded answers from the police chief and the mayor, making it clear he did not trust them to get to the bottom of why his brother was shot. “I know he was racially profiled. He was Black. That was the only thing suspicious about him. They thought he was a low-life nothing, walking the street. They didn’t see a man. They didn’t see a Black man. They saw somebody who needed to die, and they executed him. Now they are trying to cover it up.” (Franklin Gunn’s comments are from the Washington Post, March 1)

At one point after the mayor had asked “what would you have me do?” Franklin asked that both of them resign.

There is a precedent for this which is fresh in the minds of everyone: “In 1975, Montgomery police officers shot an African American man named Bernard Whitehurst, mistakenly believing he was the suspect in the robbery of a grocery store. Officers then reportedly planted a gun on him and claimed he had fired shots. The shooting death ignited a scandal that roiled the city, ultimately causing the resignation of the mayor and police chief. Last year, Montgomery officials erected a marker in Whitehurst’s name on the street where he was gunned down, and formally apologized.” (Los Angeles Times, March 2)

As soon as the press conference at city hall ended, residents began gathering at a strip mall next to the historic City of St. Jude Hospital, which has been converted to apartments for low-income families. This is where, in 1965, 2,000 participants of the Selma-to-Montgomery March found shelter, and where the night before the final march to the capital, marchers who slept on the athletic field held a “Stars of Freedom Rally” (featuring such celebrities as Odetta, Harry Belafonte, Pete Seeger, Leonard Bernstein, Peter, Paul and Mary, Tony Bennett, Joan Baez and Nina Simone).

The crowd of about 100 people gathered were from the neighborhood, sitting on cars and looking to the dozen young people on the sidewalk carrying two signs: “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace.” Young women and men saw the Stolen Lives poster, grabbed all the ones I had, scrutinizing all the faces and names, one woman (almost disbelievingly) calling out to her friends: “You mean the police murdered this 92-year-old woman (Kathryn Johnston from Atlanta)!?!” They had never seen Revolution newspaper before but grabbed all of the back issues I had with me of the racist poisoning of Flint, Michigan, on the cover.

Then began a rowdy march down the middle of Fairview Avenue, with a number of marchers holding high Revolution, and some having taped the Stolen Lives posters to their placards, chanting, “No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police.” Black people in cars and trucks backed up, joyously honking their horns and grabbing the promo cards. Disappointingly, if predictably, every white person rolled up their windows, staring straight ahead like horses with blinders on. As we rounded a corner nearing the Gunn family home, many of the neighbors in Mobile Heights began to come out, as did Mrs. Gunn herself and her extended family, somberly and silently looking on.

Jamel Brown, a local leader of BLM, angrily denounced the cowardly shooting of Gregory, and called out the silence of the authorities: “Gregory was shot twice in the back and then when he fell, shot three more times in the front. Mrs. Gunn is in her 80s, lived here for 60 years, Gregory all his life. Everybody but A.C. Smith (the white cop) knows this family. When she was awakened in the early morn hearing her son cry out for help, hearing the gunshots, she rushed to her son, only to have the police block her, rudely ordering her back into her own house.”

Next, a neighbor who lives across the street (and was a witness that night) addressed the gathering: “I am an activist working among the youth in the neighborhood to stop Black on Black crime. I can no longer do such work when the police are now coming in and killing us.”

As the rally ended, plans were announced to take the fight for justice far and wide, including to Selma this week, where thousands of people come from everywhere each year to mark the anniversary of the 1965 Civil Rights March.


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