A crowd of about 150 protesters repeatedly chanted three words — “No free kill!” — on Friday afternoon outside Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office after her decision last week to drop the manslaughter charge of a white police officer who killed a black man in 2015.
“We’re not asking permission,” organizer Danyelle Harris of the Poor People’s Campaign said of the rally. “We demand answers. This is not a pep rally. We mean business.”
Former Columbus Police Department officer Canyon Boykin was indicted in 2016 by previous Attorney General Jim Hood after shooting and killing Ricky Ball, a 26-year-old black man, during a traffic stop in 2015. During the incident, Boykin and the accompanying officers did not turn their body cameras on. Few details have been released publicly about what happened that night.
The administration of Hood, a Democrat, was actively prosecuting Boykin when Fitch, a Republican, was elected in November 2019. Fitch was the first Republican elected to the position since the 1800s.
In a two-sentence statement, Fitch explained that the evidence in the case indicated “necessary self-defense.”
“The Attorney General’s Office did a thorough and independent review of the thousands of documents in this case file and concluded that there is not evidence on which to prosecute the case against Officer Boykin,” the statement read. “In fact, all evidence, including forensics and the sworn statements of four separate MBI investigators, points to necessary self-defense.”
Along with the Poor People’s Campaign, several groups sponsored Friday’s event, including FWD.us, Black With No Chaser, People’s Advocacy Institute and others.
Speakers passionately appealed to the crowd’s frustration, not just about Ball’s death but about other black Mississippians who lost their lives during police confrontations, including Marc Davis in Petal, Ronnie Shorter in Greenville, Antwun Shumpert in Tupelo, and Jonathan Sanders in Stonewall.
“It is your God-given right as a human being to protect and defend yourself at all costs,” shouted David Horton into a megaphone, his voice choking up. “I am not afraid to stand up for my child. I am not afraid to speak up for my people. I am not afraid to be killed, if it’s for a right cause.
“I am not afraid. You want me to be afraid,” Horton said, facing the attorney general’s building.
Several elected officials, including Columbus District Attorney Scott Colom, Rep. Kabir Karriem, D-Columbus, and Rep. Cheikh Taylor, D-Starkville, spoke at the rally. Karriem spoke about failed attempts in the state Legislature to pass reform around racial justice and criminal justice reform.
“Every day the first thing we do is pray, and then we turn around and do some of the meanest things to people,” Karriem said, specifically calling to shutdown Parchman – the Mississippi State Penitentiary – and change the state flag, which is the last in the nation containing the Confederate battle emblem. “Something’s got to change, folks.”
Lea Campbell, co-chair of the Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign, addressed other white Mississippians about their role in the movement.
“This is about a system of oppression that people that look like me and you built,” she said, “and it’s past time for people who look like me in Mississippi to put some boots on the ground and fight to bring it down.”
The protest, which lasted about two hours, was peaceful throughout, although at one point organizers learned of a white man with a firearm in an adjacent parking lot. Protesters shouted towards the parking lot, but the situation didn’t develop any further.
“He has come to intimidate us,” Harris said in the megaphone.
The group had brought a letter addressed to Fitch, but state security didn’t let anyone inside the building.
After moving the rally across the street to the Capitol building, protesters demanded for at least 30 minutes to be let in. Capitol Police blocked their entry. Eventually, Rep. Zakiya Summers, D-Jackson, spoke to the crowd and assured that she would distribute the letter to lawmakers.
“The public needs to know what (Fitch) had access to so we can determine whether or not there was some kind of cause or premeditation that took place in this case,” Summers said.
Harris assured attendees that rallies would continue until they received more details about what happened the night Ball was killed.
“I felt a shift,” Harris said after the rally. “We’ll be back next week and the week after that. We’re not going anywhere.”