Hoover city officials have not been reacting just to the violence at the Riverchase Galleria on Thanksgiving night and the protests that followed, they said, the incident also has brought to the forefront a longstanding need to look at issues of inclusion in the growing city.
The efforts to include minority voices in each phase of government and assure equity for all citizens began months back and “will continue regardless of the outcome of the state investigation of the shooting,” said Hoover city administrator Allan Rice. “This incident has compelled us to.”
The incident began with a fight between two men at the mall, which led to gunfire in which Brian Wilson, 18, of Bessemer was shot twice. Two Hoover police officers working mall security rushed to the scene, and one of them shot Emantic “E.J.” Bradford Jr. three times. Also injured in the original gunfire was Molly Bennett, 12, of Calera.
Erron Martez Dequan Brown, 20, was arrested by federal marshals in Georgia a week later and charged with attempted murder.
Protests began shortly after the incident, with protestors demanding release of the officers’ body camera video and the results of a state police investigation into the shooting.
Hoover officials said they have tried to be non-inflammatory and patient since protests began.
“We have been given one opportunity to be correct. But we wanted two things to not happen: no one hurt and no property damage,” Rice said.
Initially there were no arrests made during the protests. But on Dec. 4, protests began at the Walmart on Alabama 150, continued to Buffalo Wings restaurant and ended with protesters briefly blocking a ramp onto Interstate 459.
Then on Dec. 6, protesters filed into Ross Bridge Golf Resort and two security guards were injured in a scuffle.
Those two incidents were a game-changer.
”We changed strategy,” Rice said. “Blocking traffic arteries will not be allowed.”
Since then, six protesters have been arrested on misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges.
Hoover has tried to balance the first amendment rights of the protestors with the public’s safety. Additionally, Hoover relies heavily on tax money from retailers. For that reason, protesters have targeted the mall, stores and restaurants, while the city has tried to stop disruption of those operations.
Seeking Help With the Response
The shooting caught Hoover without full resources to respond. The former city public relations officer retired in August, and the city is in the process of hiring another.
So, the city hired o2 Ideas, a Birmingham-base public relations and advertising firm, within three days of the mall shooting.
The firm has guided the city with media training for the mayor, City Council members and their staffs.
“o2 has been helpful in media support and done a lot of research for us,” Rice said.
Police Chief Nick Derzis has researched incidents in other cities, asking police in communities that have had race-related officer-involved shootings how they dealt with protests and the aftermaths. He questioned what went well in other communities and what could have been done to have made the situation better.
The Long Road
It’s a first step in a long road of study as city officials come up with a plan to ensure inclusion and equity in the city. Previously, they talked with members of the Minority Business Council of the Hoover Chamber of Commerce about how to include all types of city residents in city functions.
“The business council is probably the only deliberate or named entity in the city set up to address these issues,” Rice said.
Now the city is compiling ways to get the city’s minorities involved in that process.
In Hoover, 70 percent of the population is Caucasian and 17 percent African American, with the remaining population being other minorities.
“And our Police Department is the most diverse of city departments,” Rice said. “There is diversity at every rank in the department.”
“We have been contacted by them and we have contacted the African-American community in the city,” Rice said. “We know what we want our inclusion and equity plan to look like, and we want input from the very beginning. We will start with our residents, and later we will look for input from outside our community.
“We have seen no evidence of massive racial discord in our city prior to Nov. 22,” Rice said.
“We have no timeline. We are starting now and that does not mean that we are giving short-shrift to immediate issues,” Rice said. “These are parallel efforts. We are beginning to assemble people to have dialogue.”