Broken community

Neighborhood leaders call on residents to begin work toward healing

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Reflecting on what was one of the bloodiest weeks in Tallahassee, leaders in Black communities said their neighborhoods are “broken.” 

There was even a call for residents to take ownership of their communities and get involved in finding ways to counter violence like what took four lives over a three-day span. Each of the deaths involved guns.

Reaction to the shootings was swift.

“This is major,” said Rudy Ferguson, pastor at New Birth Tabernacle who also heads up the TPD Citizen’s Advisory Council. “This is critical.”

Malik Jackson

Two of the shootings took place in Bond on Tallahassee’s south side and the third occurred on Mission Road on the northwest side of the city. The first shooting occurred nine days ago at the Holton Streets Apartments, where a Tallahassee police officer shot Natosha “Tony” McDade, 38, about 15 minutes after she was identified as the suspect who stabbed Malik Jackson, 21, at an apartment at 2300 block of Saxon Street. 

About a mile away, TPD was called to a shooting on Keith Street in the same Bond neighborhood last Friday. Officers found two injured victims, one with life-threatening wounds. Seventeen hours later police responded to a third shooting on Mission Road where a male was found non-responsive with a gunshot wound.

“I think it’s just a matter of everybody needing to exhale and start a dialog to find ways that we can get law enforcement and those that are not a part of this community to understand how bad it hurts,” said Jackie Perkins, who heads up law enforcement for the Greater Bond Neighborhood Association. “We’ve got to let it out. We’ve got to vent first and then we’ve got to find some solutions.

Natosha “Tony” McDade

“We have so many broken people, so many people who are hurt. Hurt people will hurt other people and we’ve really got to get to the crux of it.”

McDade became the third person shot by a TPD officer since March. This one happened in a community that had spent the last three years reshaping its image from a place where crime was prevalent.

“I don’t have words,” said Talethia Edwards, president of the Greater Bond Neighborhood Association.

“What I realize with all of this is this community needs more than just infrastructure,” Edwards said. “We’ve got to begin to figure how do we change the whole atmosphere in the neighborhood so that these types of things aren’t happening.”

One way that Edwards believes that the community could get more involved is by declaring their neighborhood a safe place.

“We are all taking ownership,” she said. “Bond is a safe place you can’t bring none of it here.”

Edward also suggested that mental health issues might be at the core of crime in her neighborhood, calling for government leaders to pay attention to the issue.

 “The people here are broken,” Edwards said. “We’ve got substance abuse issues, economic issues. It’s so compounded and it’s so needed. Sometimes you don’t know where to start.”

TPD chief Lawrence Revell held a news conference not long after the bodies of Jackson and McDade were pronounced dead at a local hospital. Investigation of the case will be turned over to state attorney Jack Campbell, whose office has the two previous cases, Revell said.

The first officer-involved shooting this year occurred on March 20, when Mychael Johnson was shot after a stolen car pursuit on Blair Stone road. Then, on May 19 Wilbon C. Woodard was shot on North Monroe Street.

Meanwhile, Revell and community leaders appealed for calm from residents who were visibly upset over the Holton Street shooting.

“Any life taken is one too many,” Revell said at his press conference. “No chief wants that. Since I’ve started out, my whole point has been to build relationships with our entire community.”

Asked about the third officer-involved shooting in just a few months after he became chief, Revell said each of them will be resolved after Campbell’s review.

Evidence collected from the site of the stabbing included a bloody knife.  Witnesses said they also saw bullet shells at the Holton Street Apartment site, but Revell said it wasn’t clear if the officer involved fired more than once.

“We will let the investigation run its full course,” Revell said of the Holton Street incident.

The bloodshed on the Southside occurred just a few days after Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin stuck his knee into George Floyd’s neck, causing his death. That also happened at a time when Blacks around the country were also in an uproar over the shooting deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia by a White man and the death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot by a White police officer in her home in Kentucky.

Comparisons of McDade’s shooting to the ones in Kentucky, Atlanta and Minnesota were circulated in the neighborhood. Social media also lit up over the local and national cases.

“That anger is justified in what’s going on across the country,” Revell said. “We have to continue to have conversations about those tough issues and racial profiling is one of those. It’s an issue for the community and it is an issue for our department.”

The three Tallahassee cases involving TPD officers could ultimately go before a grand jury.

“Someone from the community needs to be at the table, following along with the state attorney and every branch of law enforcement that has a stake in this investigation,” Ferguson said. “That keeps the honesty when someone from the outside is there at the table.”

Ferguson went on to say that it will take “very long” for Black communities to heal and establish a trust in law enforcement. 

The situation here was lethal and very tragic, to say the least,” he said. “Not only for the families, but the community as a whole. No matter if it was just or unjust, it’s still a blemish.”

A vigil was held for McDade on the night of the Holton Street shooting. A day later, Mother Jones Magazine paid homage to McDade, who has a lengthy criminal history. The magazine referred to her as being a trans-masculine person.

Mother Jones quoted Gina Duncan, the Director of Transgender Equality for Equality Florida, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization, decrying the shooting. 

“Nothing can erase that,” Duncan said. “Talking about Tony’s earlier brushes with the law should not diminish the humanity of this being a person who is now dead and certainly shouldn’t diminish the fact that society failed Tony. Tony was calling out for help and society failed Tony in so many ways.”

Multiple video accounts of the shooting have been circulating. Two of them were posted by McDade.  In one, she is shown being attacked by five men.

In a much lengthier video, McDade lamented about life and promised a standoff with law enforcement. She also said “I’m living suicidal right now” in the video.

 McDade’s mother, Wanda James, hadn’t been seen much around the neighborhood in the days that followed the shooting. However, she confided in Edwards, who said James confirmed TPD’s account of what happen.

James also asked her to plea with the neighborhood to refrain from violence.

“She said she would like to see the community light a candle and say a prayer,” Edwards said.  “She is a woman of great faith. She told her story with the calm and love that I think any mother could in a situation like that.”

Jackson’s family also asked people who knew him not to seek revenge by attacking James. His aunt, Abigail Jackson, asked for calm during a candlelit vigil for her nephew.

“We do not tolerate violence,” she said. “Only thing I ask you all; if you see violence stop it, report it. It doesn’t make you a snitch. It doesn’t make you wrong. It saves lives by reporting something that is not right.”

Malik’s mother, Jennifer Jackson, said her son was “genuine, kind and humble.”

Taking the phone call about her son’s death was the hardest for her, she said. She lamented that Malik’s death might have been avoided if McDade was taken into custody the night before when TPD responded to a call about a dispute between Jackson and McDade.

It carried over into the next day when her son was stabbed, Jackson said, without going into any details. She couldn’t talk about it because the circumstances were “too deep (and) too emotional,” she said. “Just to picture it hurts.”

About 40 people showed for the vigil behind of a house adjacent to where the stabbing took place. His friends and family prayed, recited Biblical scriptures and told stories of their relationship with him.

Roosevelt Burgess said Jackson was the son that he never had.

“I could talk to Malik and he would listen to me,” Burgess said. “He never disrespected me. I truly loved him with all of my heart, mind body and spirit. He was a wonderful young man.

“I love him and I will keep on loving him because he is in God’s hand.”

Link Up, a community organization that mentors children in low-income neighborhoods, organized the vigil. Darian Davis, who founded the organization, was obviously in mourning over  Jackson.

He echoed the sentiment by Edward that children will be the ones to bring about change in the neighborhood.

“They tell us when we were coming up you have to go to school if you want to be successful,” he said. “But you have to have the tools once you get out of school to keep you engaged; something to water the seed that school has planted.”