On the night of August 8, Bossier City Police officers in Louisiana responded to a domestic disturbance call. When they arrived, they encountered 34-year-old Jonathan Jefferson, a Black man who, since the age of 21, struggled with being bipolar and having schizophrenia. Jonathan came out of the house. His relatives say he had a knife in his hands before police arrived, but they were not sure if he still possessed it when he met the officers. When they exited their vehicles, the officers had their guns drawn. They ordered Jonathan to drop the knife, or knives, and when he kept walking towards them they shot him. He was pronounced dead in front of his home.
On the evening of August 9, Cannon Hinnant, a 5-year-old white boy, rode his bike in front of his father’s house in Wilson, NC, as his sisters sat on the porch. Darius Sessoms, a 25-year-old Black man and also the Hinnant’s neighbor, came into the yard and shot Cannon in the head. Cannon’s father heard the shot and rushed outside. He held his son in arms and saw Darius in the yard next door pacing with the gun in his hand. Cannon died of the gunshot wound. Darius fled, and officers arrested him the next day. He is charged with first-degree murder and is being held with no bond.
Scrolling through Twitter on August 11, I came across Drew McKevitt’s tweet about Jonathan’s shooting. He posted that Jonathan had a history of mental illness and that officers said “he was armed with a knife.” Drew also linked to KSLA News 12’s news story about the incident. It was there that I found out that the shooting occurred on the street where I grew up, actually a few doors down from my childhood home.
Cops in Bossier City shot and killed a Black man with a history of mental illness. They say he was armed with a knife. https://t.co/bnzP6fwobf
— Drew McKevitt (@drewmckevitt) August 11, 2020
On the same day, while scrolling through Facebook, I came across multiple posts from people who still live in Bossier posting about Cannon’s murder. Posts asked why mainstream media didn’t pick up the story. Posts argued that a double standard was taking place, and they started the #justiceforcannon and #sayhisname hashtags. These trended on Twitter over the last week, and the conservative website The Blaze started reporting on the media blackout.
I struggled, in the days that followed, about how to react to Cannon’s and Jonathan’s killings. I struggled with how to even address each death. I looked online for information about both shootings. I read articles. I did not want to say something that was not accurate, and I struggled with the words to put down. The thoughts to convey.
Jonathan’s shooting hit home with me because it occurred, as I said, on the street where I grew up. It occurred in the town where I still know people.
Cannon’s murder hit home with me because I have children. I do not know how I would react to something like this happening to my kids and our family.
As I thought about all of this, the accusations of double standards and the ways that some have used Cannon’s murder as a rallying cry against the calls for structural change to dismantle the structurally racist systems that we have, I began to formulate my thoughts, especially after seeing posts such as Chris Bidorini’s on Facebook. Bidorini’s comments encapsulated what I was trying to put into words, pointing out that law enforcement apprehended Darius and that justice was in the process of being served. However, it took three months for the men who lynched Ahmuad Arbery to get arrested. That only occurred after national media attention arose. No charges have been filed against the officers who killed Breonna Taylor on March 13. That’s over five months since the incident.
Cannon’s murder is horrific, and that is beyond question. Jonathan’s killing is equally horrendous. Each lost their lives. Each were killed in front of their homes. Where was the outpouring of grief for Jonathan? Where were the local and even national discussions about a man who was bipolar and schizophrenic being shot by officers, not incapacitated? (It must be noted that Bossier Parish does not issue tasers to officers.) Why was Cannon being held up as a counter to Black Lives Matter and calls to assess policing in America?
I saw numerous comments from individuals calling Cannon’s murder a “hate crime” and saying it was racially motivated. Those comments do not coincide with what I’ve seen about the incident, granted what I’ve seen so far is scant and we do not have a comment from Darius. Darius ate at the Hinnant’s house that Saturday night. Him and Cannon’s father sat on the porch talking and drinking. Cannon’s father said there was no bad blood between them. Does that sound like a “hate crime” or revenge against whites? Not to me, but that’s an ongoing narrative. Now, does that mean that Cannon’s murder, if we find out more of Darius’ motives, is not a “hate crime”? No. More evidence could say that it was one.
Now, for Jonathan’s killing. The killing of George Floyd at the knee of Derrick Chauvin is not new. The killing of Breonna Taylor is not new. Statistically, Black people are more likely to die in encounters with police than whites. By the raw numbers, more whites die during these encounters. However, based on the statistical analysis, a larger percentage of Blacks die in these encounters in comparison to whites. Northeastern University’s Matt Miller’s research point out, “Although Black people represented 12 percent of the population in the states [he and his team] studied, they made up 25 percent of the deaths in police shootings” Whites made up 62 percent of the populations and only accounted for 54 percent of the deaths. That is disproportionate, right?
What makes Cannon’s and Jonathan’s killings different? Why do we have calls for more national media attention for one and complete radio silence for another? That radio silence, from people who called for #justiceforcannon and who still live in the Shreveport/Bossier area, pointed to the difference. Through this amplification of one and absence of the other a formula arises that comes out to this: Cannon’s life > Jonathan’s life. Both are sacred. Both are important. Both had families, relatives, and friends who loved them.
Jonathan’s mother was inside the house when her son was shot. His brother was inside the house. Dana Larkin, Jonathan’s sister, saw the officers shoot at him multiple times — sixteen by her count, and she saw the bullets go through him. She told a reporter that the officers, before Jonathan even started walking toward them, told him to stop. He got in front of them and they opened fire. I do not know how he was acting. I do not know if he had a knife of knives. At this point, does it matter?
Officers had been to Jonathan’s house before when he had a manic episode, and they took him to the medical center for treatment. Consoling his mother, Eric Jefferson, Jonathan’s brother, told the reporter, “They don’t understand that it was a life that they took. It was just not no random, you know, person like he was trying to rob or kill somebody. You pulled up on a mental health patient that was going through a crisis and you took his life because you came up ready to shoot your gun.”
This is the point. Jonathan was a person, a human, an individual, a son, a brother, a man. Cannon was a person, a human, an individual, a son, a brother, a young boy. Neither deserved to die in the manner that they did. Neither deserved to get shot in their front yards. Neither family deserved to be left with a void in their lives.