A TRULY GUT-WRENCHING scene happened at last week’s City Council meeting.
A weeping Jameillah Smiley begged Mayor Eddie DeLoach and Council to release video she thinks will prove her late son Ricky Boyd didn’t have to be shot and killed by police.
Tearful, with voice trembling, she told them, “He was a good kid. He worked real hard. And we loved him. The City of Savannah took him away from me and all of us... the Chief of Police lied about my son.”
Regardless of how one stands on the incident this past January on the Southside — in which Smiley’s 20-year-old son was killed while being served a murder warrant — there was no doubting her absolute sincerity, her extraordinary bravery, or the depth of her sorrow.
Smiley then calmly looked at each Council member in turn, asking each of them if he or she would help urge the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to turn over the bodycam footage she has seen, which she says exonerates her son and proves he was wrongfully killed.
“Is there anyone who will say yes?” she concluded plaintively, barely audible.
There wasn’t anyone.
The Mayor and Council all expressed personal sympathy, and seemed sincere.
But on the advice of City Attorney Brooks Stillwell, they all also said that since the officer-involved shooting is in front of a grand jury, their hands are tied.
And just like that, the grieving mother was quickly hustled off to make more time for developer’s attorneys to speak uninterrupted about some big project or another they want local rules changed for.
The scene was tragic not only for the deep personal anguish on display, but for what it symbolized: An African American woman wanting justice and resolution for the death of her son at the hands of police, in a city with a troubled track record on issues of police credibility.
It is always the worst of tortures to lose a child, but Smiley herself is only 36. She faces a long lifetime ahead filled with profound sadness over losing her son.
I found it revealing that this Council — some members of which are usually quick to grandstand on issues of this nature — all failed to step up when there was some actual action they could have taken.
Indeed, the entire incident this past January simply doesn’t pass the smell test.
Boyd was wanted for the murder of Balil Whitfield in West Savannah two days prior. Officers attempted to serve the warrant on Boyd at Marian Circle.
Savannah Police Chief Mark Revenew was literally on his first day at the job after the departure of former chief Joseph Lumpkin. Revenew initially said Boyd came out shooting and police killed him in self-defense, with one officer receiving a gunshot wound.
The explanation then shifted to say that Boyd came out with a BB gun, and police shot because they thought it was real.
However, Smiley’s attorney, William Claiborne, says he has evidence the BB gun was found 43 feet from where Boyd fell.
The clear insinuation is that the BB gun was planted, though it doesn’t appear so far that anyone is quite saying so publicly in quite that many words.
To me the missing piece of the puzzle is this: If Boyd didn’t shoot at anyone — as even police say is true — then who shot the police officer? Obviously it must have been another officer.
So why isn’t more being made of that remarkable turn of events? You’d think a cop being shot by another cop would be considered worthy of much deeper investigation in and of itself.
In any case, a blue-on-blue accidental shooting apparently being swept under the rug is enough to at least raise an eyebrow.
As for the bodycam footage, I do understand the desire not to try a police officer in the court of public opinion and needlessly inflame already-hot sentiments.
But the stated reason for not releasing the footage — that the case is still open — also doesn’t pass the smell test.
When actor Shia LaBeouf was arrested in Savannah in 2017, within hours police eagerly released every minute of incriminating bodycam video and audio to TMZ and other national and international media, who all ate it up with a spoon.
It got so ridiculous that I half expected to see footage of LaBeouf using a urinal in a bathroom at the county jail.
But the footage from Marian Circle, by contrast, is considered too sensitive for anyone in the public to see one second of.
Why is that? When law enforcement clearly has no problem releasing footage that makes them look good, often while adjudication is pending?
At minimum, one would be forgiven for concluding that there is something on the unreleased bodycam footage that police don’t want the public to see.
Whether it exonerates Boyd, or proves police malfeasance with regards to use of firearms, or both, or something else entirely, I don’t know.
The larger lesson is that of all the ways the City, the police, and the District Attorney could have handled this very sensitive incident, they picked perhaps the least transparent way.
At a time when mistrust of police both locally and nationally is at a high, they seem determined to do the one thing guaranteed to inflame more mistrust, all in the name of not inflaming the public.
The case has received national media attention, including a much-shared piece this past weekend in the New York Times which basically just recapped the last few years of Savannah news for a national audience that hasn’t already seen it here in Connect or in some other local media.
There is a certain breed of Savannah intellectual who takes great and somewhat perverse joy in reading negative news about our city in the New York Times. I am not in that group.
(Their delight is often accompanied by the jab, "See? We have to learn about this in the Times instead of local media." When of course, you could easily have learned about it from local media if you chose to, since we all cover these local stories and that is usually how the Times gets its story ideas about Savannah.)
I often joke that the Times has a software bot that writes their predictably negative stories about the South. Indeed, their piece this weekend describes Savannah as an “the elegant, troubled jewel of the Georgia coast,” a lazy cliché that could have come from a meme generator.
I’m not here to score points with a national audience, nor do I take particular delight in discussing the wrongs I see all around us. Quite the contrary.
More transparency is the goal, and that’s what’s called for in this case, and for that matter, in just about everything else that goes on in Savannah.
Is there anyone who will say yes?