White Officer Aaron Smith Charged With Murder Of Black Man Carrying Painter’s Stick

Aaron Smith, a white Alabama police officer, was charged with murder Wednesday in the shooting death last week of Gregory Gunn, a black man who, witnesses and a family lawyer says, was walking home when he was gunned down outside a neighbor’s house. 23-year-old Smith was arrested with bond set at $150,000, Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey said. NY Daily News reports that police initially said Gunn was carrying a cane, and the two men fought outside a neighbor’s home on February 25. However, a resident said the cane was just a retractable painter’s stick.

“I will do everything in my power to protect a police officer who is operating within the law,” Bailey said at a news conference. “I will use every ounce of my power to prosecute a police officer who is acting outside of the law.”

Gunn’s death carries the typical narratives…”suspicious black male”…”white cop feared for his life”… “black man didn’t obey”… so “cop shot him dead.” Of course, it comes as no surprise that authorities have not said what Smith found suspicious about Gunn. Gregory’s family, and area residents, protested at a Tuesday night City Council meeting and at a press conference by Mayor Todd Strange Monday night.

“I don’t care about your statement. I care about my brother,” Gunn’s brother Franklin Gunn said at the press conference Monday, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. “They didn’t even look at him as a man. They looked at the color of his skin, he was judged and he was tried,” Gunn said.

Gregory Gunn’s name is now a part of national conversation about law enforcement’s use of lethal force in urban communities. On the night of the shooting, Gunn was walking home to his mother’s house after a night of playing poker with his friends, according to his family’s attorney, Tyrone Means. Witnesses told the Washington Post that they “heard Gunn screaming for help and calling for his mother before he was killed on his next-door neighbor’s front lawn.”

“Trayvon Martin was a black kid walking in a predominantly white neighborhood, and someone just thought he looked suspicious,” Means said. “Greg Gunn was in a community in which he was well-known and well-loved. That’s scary.”

Officer Aaron Smith
Police Officer Aaron Smith during a press conference with attorneys Wednesday, March 2, 2016, in Montgomery, Ala.

ABC reports that attorney Mickey McDermott said Smith’s arrest is a “political witch hunt” to “quell public unrest.”

“This is on the back of a 23-year-old police officer working by himself in a high crime area, with a larger man who ran,” McDermott said. “We’re sorry for the loss of this man, but he brought it on himself.”

So, by McDermott’s logic, an unarmed black man whose presence made a white male cop feel uneasy, deserved to die. Meanwhile, the prosecutor responsible for the decision to charge Smith considered the evidence and determined that a murder charge was warranted. That evidence has not be disclosed to the public but will be presented before a grand jury at a future date.

ADA Bailey said he believes Gunn’s death is an “isolated incident,” and is “in no way an indictment on the Montgomery Police Department.”

“I want to be crystal clear that the arrest that is being made today is in no way an indictment on the Montgomery Police Department,” Bailey said. “In fact, 99.9 percent of the Montgomery police officers do an exceptional job on a daily basis protecting us and our community. They are, in fact, the thin blue line between order and chaos.”

A cop being charged with murder most often results in an acquittal – and until that unfortunate moment arrives in this particular case, Mayor Todd Strange said that termination proceedings have begun against Aaron Smith.

[AP Photo/Kim Chandler]