Will Sutton: Lafayette deputy Clyde Kerr’s 2020 heartbreak, racist ‘justice’ and our pain

Like many of us, I’m sure Lafayette Parish Deputy Clyde Kerr III was looking forward to the new year, putting 2020 behind. Last year was so bad. Now, Kerr is dead.

Something called COVID-19 popped on our radar screens early last year, just after Mardi Gras, and we were curious when — BAM! — it hit us that we were a part of a global pandemic.

Things were getting worse with the virus when, on March 13, Breonna Taylor was shot and killed — in her apartment. Louisville plainclothes police officers forced themselves into her home. There were police reports, news stories. Demonstrations and protests ensued. Taylor’s death got some national attention, but there was no video and it was mostly a Kentucky news story.

The virus got worse. More people got sick. More people were dying from the vicious virus. More Black people were dying from the virus. More Black people were dying at the hands of police officers.

Things continued getting worse with the virus when, on May 25, George Floyd was killed by police officers on a Minneapolis street. Someone at a store accused Floyd of trying to pass off a counterfeit $20 bill as real. Several officers were dispatched. He was pushed against a wall, then down on the street and handcuffed. Three officers kneeled on him. He cried out for his mother. Minutes later, he was dead.

There were police reports, news stories, demonstrations.

There was video.

A short few days later, Kerr was in Acadiana when he saw the Floyd video. Like most people, including Black people, and most especially Black men, he didn’t like what he saw. He was emotionally drained. How do I know? On May 31, he recorded a 44:43 video on YouTube. Titled “This Needs & Has To Be Said!,” Kerr said on video he was processing the incident, but it was his son’s response that was the larger issue.

His son, 13, had watched the video, start to finish. He watched Floyd die. He asked Kerr why. “I couldn’t explain it,” Kerr said on the video. “What hurt me the most was having to explain this to him. … I could tell he lost a piece of his innocence.”

He added, “I have cousins that look exactly like Floyd.”

I feel him. Like him, I, too, have cousins, relatives, friends who look like Floyd. We are Floyd. It hurt.

By April, about 70% of the Louisianans who died of the virus were Black, compared to a statewide Black population of about 32%. This was happening nationally. The Black Lives Matter movement was launched after the senseless killing of Trayvon Martin, 17, in Sanford, Florida, and after Michael Brown, 18, who supposedly stole a box of cigars, was killed during a struggle with officers. Police killed Eric Garner, 43, accused of illegally selling cigarettes in Staten Island, New York. They listened to him cry “I can’t breathe.” There was video. Alton Sterling, 37, was killed by police outside a Baton Rouge store where there was a struggle as he was selling CDs. There was video. 

There have been too many situations involving Black people, men and women, killed by police officers of whatever ethnicity and race. Since The Washington Post started tracking shootings by on-duty police officers in 2015, there have been 5,000 such deaths, including more than 900 in the last year. That’s shootings. That doesn’t include police deaths by other means. About half of those killed by police were White. But Black people are shot at an unconscionable rate. We are about 13% of the nation’s population, yet police kill us at more than twice the rate of Whites, according to the Post.

It’s not right.

How can we be OK when the circumstances continue and police department and individual responsibility escapes those who kill us?

Kerr, chaplain of his officer training class, was 43. On Monday, the son of famed trumpeter Clyde Kerr Jr., ended his disappointment, his frustration and his pain. On a video recorded earlier, he said he had hoped to see the Super Bowl LV with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs, mainly because he wanted to see fellow St. Augustine High School Purple Knights Tyrann Mathieu and Leonard Fournette compete. He decided he couldn’t wait.

Kerr took his own life. We may never know whether Kerr struggled with personal demons as well. This tormented Black man said on video that he could no longer be complicit working in a system he considered racist. He said on video he had had enough. 

What will it take for us to say we’ve had enough?


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