By Sarah Ahmed
On June 29, Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather released security footage from the killing of Frankie “Pop” Jennings at the hands of law enforcement in March, announcing that he will not press charges against the US Marshal responsible. In response to the decision, activists with Charlotte Uprising and Feed the Movement organized a protest demanding justice and answers for Jennings’s family.
On March 24, Jennings arrived in Charlotte to celebrate his birthday with friends and family. According to the district attorney’s report, US Marshals worked with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s (CMPD) Real Time Crime Command Center, a network of surveillance software and security cameras throughout the city, to track his location once he arrived due to an outstanding arrest warrant.
The security footage from the Citgo gas station where he was killed shows Jennings and his girlfriend Nayja Johnson arrive in separate cars. After pulling into the station, Jennings gets out of his car to pump gas into Johnson’s car. Two unmarked law enforcement vehicles then enter the gas station and US Marshall Eric Tillman and Deputy Tate Mills with the Union County Sheriff’s office get out of their cars and ambush Jennings with their guns drawn.
In the footage, Jennings puts his hands in the air and jogs to get into the driver’s seat of his car as Tillman and Mills rush to the driver’s side of the car, with one trying to force the door open and the other blocking the door with his foot. A third law enforcement SUV pulls in front of Jennings’ car to block him from leaving, also blocking the camera’s view of the incident, as he pulls his car forward and Tillman shoots him three times. Only 13 seconds passed between Jennings noticing the officers and Tillman shooting him.
Johnson, his girlfriend who was present during the shooting, said in her interview with the district attorney that Jennings had his left hand up and his right hand on his steering wheel when he was killed.
Jennings’ sister Tanua Wallace told Tribune that she was not surprised by the DA’s decision. “In my heart, I feel like they came out to do what was done. 13 seconds is not a chance. The video shows [the officer] putting his foot on the door—was Frankie getting out to surrender?”
Jennings’ family has received almost no communication from law enforcement about his murder, with a detective from CMPD only reaching out to his sister more than a month after he was killed. His cousin Lashawn Jennings said that the ruling class media did most of the talking for the Marshals, at one point claiming that a gun was found in Jennings’ car, which contradicted earlier reports that claimed it was found in his girlfriend’s car. The video footage itself shows little more than the events leading up to his murder, with his final moments obscured from view by the third SUV—begging the question as to what evidence Merriweather based his decision on, other than law enforcement testimony.
The image of Jennings portrayed by ruling class media as ‘armed and dangerous’ does not reflect the man that his friends and family knew—a father of four who mostly kept to himself, and who at one point worked at a nursing home. “If people knew what he was like, it would start a war,” Lashawn Jennings said. “How did you feel threatened when the whole time he had his hands up?”
During the demonstration at the US Marshals office on Tuesday, activists with Charlotte Uprising and Feed the Movement confronted employees leaving the building and continued protesting despite harassment from building security. Glo Merriweather, an activist with Charlotte Uprising, told the press, “We’re not going to stop at the accountability that the state is going to allow; we the people are going to hold the state accountable.” The family and local activists are demanding that Tillman face charges, and have pledged to continue protesting until Jennings’ family gets justice for his murder.
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