On Sunday, a day shy of two years since her son Jonathan was fatally shot by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer, Georgia Ferrell planned to go to her church in Tallahassee, Fla., then lay a bouquet of fresh mums and peace lilies on his grave, 10 miles away.
Finally, with youngest son Willie, she’ll make the seven-hour drive north to a city she couldn’t wait to leave 25 days ago.
That was the day, Aug. 21, when a Mecklenburg County jury said it couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on guilt or innocence in the voluntary manslaughter trial of CMPD Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick.
Monday, the second anniversary, Ferrell and Willie will go to the site in the Bradfield Farms neighborhood in eastern Mecklenburg, where on Sept. 14, 2013, the white police officer shot Jonathan Ferrell, black and unarmed, 10 times during an early-morning confrontation.
At his month-long trial, Kerrick testified Ferrell, 24, charged at him after repeated orders for him to drop to the ground. Of 12 shots fired, 10 hit Ferrell at close range.
At the spot where her son died, she’ll leave a wreath. She initially wants to go alone with her son, away from any vigils or protesters.
“I have not gone there yet,” Georgia Ferrell said last week. “I want to leave the wreath right where he was lying on the ground with his arms under him, where he died. I need to do something to help me help my spirit and to go there, I believe I will feel what he felt when he was dying.
“I’ve told all my (four) sons many times, if you’re in trouble, go to an officer. And this is what we got.”
Later Monday evening, she and Willie are expected to return for a 7 p.m. vigil at the Bradfield Farms Pool clubhouse, said Jibril Hough, a spokesman for Charlotte’s Muslim community and a vigil organizer.
“No one has done any type of vigil in the neighborhood,” Hough said. “We thought it would be a meaningful, poignant way to honor Jonathan on the anniversary by going back to where he died.”
About the same time Monday, a “March on Charlotte” will start at 7:10 p.m. (10 to symbolize the number of times Ferrell was shot) from uptown’s Marshall Park, said John Barnett, founder of the Charlotte-based THUG (True Healing Under God) civil rights group who has organized several demonstrations before and after a mistrial was declared in the Kerrick trial.
The procession will go north on North McDowell Street and turn left on East Trade Street and another left on College Street to wind its way back to Marshall, Barnett said.
About 10 pastors and activists will speak before or after the march depending on traffic, Barnett said.
“The march is designed to show that we’re not giving up on Jonathan Ferrell, and getting justice for him,” he said. “We will continue to press for a new trial.”
Training for police
So will Georgia Ferrell and her family.
They’re in the process of forming the Justice For Jonathan Foundation, using part of the $2.25 million the city of Charlotte paid to settle a lawsuit filed by the Ferrell family.
“It will be an effort to taking a bad situation and try to make it positive,” Georgia Ferrell said. “We are working hard to make sure this never happens again to another child – that when cops kill our children, they don’t get away with it.”
She said the foundation will push for more police training. Police, she said, need to ask more questions when they confront young black men.
“Those cops didn’t ask Jonathan nothing,” she said. “The officer just pulled his trigger. These cops needed to understand that not all young black men are criminals.”
During the trial, prosecutors said that Ferrell sought help after wrecking his fiancee’s car about 2:30 that Saturday morning in the Bradfield Farms neighborhood, banging on the door of the nearest house. The homeowner, fearing someone was breaking in, called 911. Kerrick and two other officers responded.
Kerrick testified he fired at Ferrell after he refused to drop and ran toward him. His lawyers told jurors that the shots were justified, and that Kerrick was following CMPD policy after a Taser from another officer missed.
Georgia Ferrell said she believed her son was running away from the Taser darts, not at Kerrick.
“If someone pulls out a Taser and a gun, you’re going to try to get away from that, too,” she said. “That’s what he was doing.”
‘Needed to get out’
The last time Georgia spoke to Jonathan was the day before he was killed.
He’d told her he’d call her that night. He didn’t. She was dreaming about him at 2:30 the next morning, about the time Jonathan was shot, when Georgia awoke in a panic and sat straight up.
“My goodness, Jonathan didn’t call me,” she whispered to herself. “I know God will look after him.”
She went back to sleep. That morning, while making breakfast, she saw a sheriff’s car pulling into her driveway. She said the deputy had a message to call a detective in Charlotte.
Georgia had wanted to see where he died during the trial, but there was never time. She thought she’d go after a verdict. But that didn’t come.
“I couldn’t believe that there could be a hung jury when an unarmed man was shot 10 times,” she said. “I just needed to get out of that city and pray to God for some understanding. Now I’m ready to go back and confront where my son died.”