Violence against black people in this country is well-documented and well-tolerated. Unfiltered black speech about that violence, however, is not. This is especially true in the south, where black oppression is tied to cultural identity and woven into the social norms.
On the evening of June 18th, 37-year-old Antwun “Ronnie” Shumpert was excited about a new job he thought would help him get back on his feet. As the events of the night unfolded, it became apparent that he would not make it home and he would not see his children again. In the events that followed, he would not even be given the benefit of doubt. Ronnie was killed that night and after being pulled over for a “routine traffic stop” by a white officer in Tupelo, Mississippi.
According to the complaint, Shumpert was driving his friend and teammate, Charles Foster’s car and following the rules of law when Tupelo officer Terry Cook, pulled him over near Lee Acres subdivision approximately 9:30 pm on June 18th. Foster was a passenger in the car. According to witnesses and police, Shumpert fled the scene shortly after the stop, an action that for many, justified the use of deadly force.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court reads as following:
After Shumpert fled, Officer Tyler Cook and his city assigned K9 gave immediate chase, not knowing who they were chasing or why. Shumpert initially hid from the police but eventually tried to surrender voluntarily and come from his hiding place as he heard the dog approach. As Shumpert attempted to voluntarily surrender, the K9 viciously attacked Shumpert, biting him in the groin, ripping his flesh leaving a gaping hole at least six inches deep in his groin, and nearly mutilating his testicles after shredding his scrotum. Said K9 also severely clawed Shumpert on his back and inflicted other injuries and bruises to the person of Antwun Shumpert. Mr. Shumpert tried to defend himself against the unlawful, excessive, and vicious attack of the K9. While trying to defend himself against total annihilation by the K9, Officer Tyler Cook approached the unarmed Shumpert and shot him four times, three times to the chest and once in the abdomen. Cook also punched Shumpert in his face and kicked or stomped Shumpert in the mouth knocking four of his bottom teeth back towards his throat. This all occurred less than 10 minutes after the initial traffic stop and Shumpert was placed in handcuffs by Cook after the vicious attack and shooting while Shumpert laid in a pool of blood. The initial traffic stop was not lawful as no probable cause existed for the stop and to this day no one with the City of Tupelo has advised Shumpert or Foster as to the reason for the traffic stop. Shumpert and Plaintiff Foster were the victims of racial profiling. Cook did not even know the identity of the individual he was chasing and had no knowledge at that time of any outstanding warrants Shumpert may or may not have had. Neither did Cook have any reason to believe that Shumpert was armed and dangerous. In fact, Shumpert has never been charged with, indicted, or convicted of any violent crime. He was a non-violent individual. 13. Subsequently, an ambulance was eventually called to the scene, and Antwun Shumpert was transported to North Mississippi Medical Center where he died on Father’s Day, June 19th, around 1:20 a.m., leaving a wife and five children to mourn his loss.
Shumpert’s final moments were spent handcuffed to a bed. His body was left mutilated, mangled and torn. A large hole in his side, his scrotum pierced and torn, his teeth kicked and broken and his gums blue from bruising. His greatest fears about interactions with police were realized.
Shumpert’s siblings peered upon his corpse for the first time through a hospital window. Hospital staff thought his injuries to severe to view up close. When they did get a chance to view his remains, they documented his injuries and made them public.
The photos conjure memories of days we would like to think we are beyond. The level of violence used to murder Shumpert shows how far we have to go. The family did not retreat to morn. They stood bravely, called a press conference and made the world aware of their intent to get justice. At that moment, they exposed underbelly of polite southern life and disrupted “business as usual” in the North Mississippi town.
Shumpert was the youngest of 5 siblings, a husband and a father to 5 children he loved dearly. His youngest child is just 3 years old and will likely only remember her father through photos and stories townspeople have shared about his good nature and heart for service to people in need.
His wife now has the task of raising 5 children alone, a thought she had never considered before June 18th. The coupled had weathered the storm, facing intense financial difficulty, but believed in their marriage and believed things were getting better. Their hopes for a better future ended in bloodshed.
Shumpert’s case would have likely been forgotten if not for the council of Carlos Moore. The audacious southern lawyer who also represented the family of Darrius Stewart (the unarmed black teen killed on a church lawn by an officer in Memphis) has been instrumental in putting this story in the national spotlight.
His unapologetic tone and public demands for justice were a shock to the southern sensibilities of Tupelo residents who have become accustomed to a certain “politeness” from black people, especially with regard to white authority figures.
Moore has been labeled an “agitator” by residents, anxious to see their town return to “normal.” But Moore and the Shumpert family are fighting to change the norms, and how black people are treated in Tupelo.
Residents have expressed dismay about the “fabric of the city being torn apart.” But “harmony” (as described by the New York Times) in the town has depended on the silence and forgiveness of black people about the racial discrimination they face, without restitution. Harmony as understood by Tupelo’s white residents is actually normalized racial violence. Black people in Tupelo face discrimination in banking, housing and employment.
Tupelo police have retroactively concocted a story about Shumpert having been under surveillance after being seen at a local motel, known for drug sales. This suspicious story surfaced nearly a month after Shumpert’s death and under national scrutiny of the Tupelo Police Department’s practices. As of print, the family nor their attorney has addressed these claims.
The Shumpert family hopes Antwun’s life can be used to make Tupelo a more just and safe place for people of color and that his life will be remembered among the modern civil rights martyrs.