Community leaders and police administration gathered for a town hall meeting Thursday night to discuss social injustice.
The town hall was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church in north Oklahoma City and included OKC advocate Grace Franklin, Oklahoma City Police Chief Wade Gourley, Deputy Chief Ron Bacy, Ret. Chief Charles Ramsey, and Ebenezer Baptist Church Pastor Derrick Scobey.
The town hall was held to share information about 21CP (21st Century Policing) which is in the process of being implemented in Oklahoma City, but the topic shifted to an Oklahoma City police officer being charged in the death of Bennie Edwards.
“Society has failed when we are not helping those people before they get to that point,” said Oklahoma City Police Chief, Wade Gourley.
Gourley said he’s unable to talk specifically about the Edwards case, but instead, addressed viewers and the small crowd about mental health overall.
“Society as a whole has failed not just here, but in the country when it has gotten to the point where there is nobody to deal with that situation but a police officer,” said Gourley.
It was December 11, 2020 when court records say Officer Clifford Holman fired three shots unnecessarily into Edwards’ back causing death.
Officers were dispatched on reports Edwards was bothering customers in the 2100 block of West Hefner Road, near Hefner and Pennsylvania in Oklahoma City during a mental health episode. Edwards was seen wielding a knife at officers.
The officer, court records say, used his taser twice before shooting.
“If that mistake can be removed, if we can have a better process if we can have a better profess of mental health calls, then Mr. Edwards could be alive and that would be the best outcome for everybody,” said OKC advocate, Grace Franklin.
Edwards family attorney released this statement to News 9 Thursday:
“Oklahoma City officials need to take full responsibility for what happened to Bennie Edwards in that parking lot, and today’s manslaughter charge is an important step in that process,” said Attorney Ben Crump of Ben Crump Law. “The continued mistreatment of Black men at the hands of police officers is a national tragedy, and the decision to charge one of the officers reflects the gravity of the situation.”
“Accountability is critical if we are ever to rebuild community trust in law enforcement. Officers must be held accountable when they use excessive force and operate outside the bounds of the law and violate a citizen’s fundamental constitutional rights,” said Antonio M. Romanucci, Founding Partner of Romanucci & Blandin, LLC.”
Edward’s family members are also speaking out.
“Our family is devastated by the tragic treatment my father received by police when what he really needed was medical assistance. But we take some comfort today in the fact that an officer will face his day in court so the truth of that horrible encounter can come out,” said Kimberle Thompson, Edwards’ daughter.
“As a Black man whose brother died during an encounter with police, it is difficult to express the hurt and damage this has done to our family. Unfortunately, there are many other Black families who have experienced the same tragedy. It has to stop,” said Greg Edwards, Edwards’ brother.