Police Shooting of Unarmed Black Man in Montgomery Reinforces Need for ReformFebruary 29, 2016

A Montgomery police officer shot and killed 58-year-old Greg Gunn in front of his neighbor's house in Mobile Heights at about 3:20 a.m. last Thursday, February 25. Witnesses said Mr. Gunn, a black man, was unarmed and calling out for his mother and neighbor to help him when the officer shot him four or five times.

Community members and city, county, and state leaders who gathered on Sunday to demand accountability and reform said there was no need to use lethal force against Mr. Gunn. "There was no evidence that they had to kill him," said Rep. Alvin Holmes (D-Montgomery). "He had no weapon, he did not attack the police officers. He was knocking on the next door and police shot him."

Mr. Gunn lived with his 80-year-old mother on McElvy Street in Mobile Heights, one of the original black neighborhoods in Montgomery. Established in the 1950s, the neighborhood was filled with middle-class black families -- school teachers, police officers, and other state workers. Mr. Gunn's father, Frank Gunn Jr., was one of the first black officers in the Montgomery Police Department.

Everyone in the neighborhood knew Greg Gunn, who cut his neighbors' grass and often walked to his girlfriend's house nearby. On Thursday, he was walking home from a neighborhood card game with neighbor Tarkisha Matthews. A patrol car slowed down as it passed them, and she hurried home. "When dusk starts, if you walk down this street, an officer is going to stop you. It's ridiculous," Ms. Matthews told reporters. "We've been having a lot of break-ins around here so I know people call and ask for police, but not for this."

According to Montgomery Police Chief Ernest Finley, Officer A.C. Smith, a white male who had been on the force for about four years, noticed a black male walking with a stick or painter's pole. No one had called the police, but the officer determined Mr. Gunn was a "suspicious person" and engaged him in a "slight altercation." The officer then chased Mr. Gunn, who ran to the home of his next door neighbor, Colvin Hinson, and banged on the door, yelling Mr. Hinson's name. Mr. Gunn was screaming for help and calling for his mother when witnesses say the officer shot him four or five times.

Scott Muhammad saw the shooting from across the street. He told reporters that several more officers and an ambulance arrived, but no one provided medical assistance to Mr. Gunn. Mr. Gunn's mother said she could hear him screaming for help but paramedics were turned away. "There wasn't no doubt that he was screaming for help, groaning like, for several minutes," Mr. Hinson reported. Mr. Gunn's mother said that police told her to stay inside her house, which she did, but she could still hear her son crying out for her.

The officer has been placed on administrative leave for several days. Chief Finley said the investigation was immediately turned over to the State Bureau of Investigation. Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey said the case would be presented to a grand jury once all the evidence had been collected and reviewed.

Friends and family said that Mr. Gunn, despite being the son of a police officer, feared police violence. His neighbors share the fear that an officer will act on an unfounded presumption that black people are dangerous -- a risk that is dramatically exacerbated by poor training and misguided policies that fail to familiarize officers with the communities they patrol.

Frequent turnover among officers, unfamiliar faces, and officers who drive through the neighborhood with windows rolled up, never interacting with the residents, make Mobile Heights residents uneasy, and last week's tragic shooting has given new urgency to the call for reform. Chris Miles, a close friend of the Gunn family, said as a black man living in Mobile Heights, he does not feel safe with white officers patrolling their community. "I don't want them patrolling here anymore, because we're either 'suspicious,' or if something happens, they say they were in fear of their life," he told reporters. "We can't live under those conditions anymore."