AFRICANGLOBE – Kevin Davis and his girlfriend, April Edwards, lived on the outskirts of Decatur, GA, a predominantlyBlack community just outside Atlanta. Davis, 44, was a longtime employee at Sawicki’s, a sandwich shop located in the more affluent downtown area of Decatur, where Edwards also worked. By all accounts, he was kind-hearted, generous, never late, and a visible contributor to his relatively small community of family, friends and colleagues. It was this very kindness which prompted him to invite Terrance Hilyard, 47, a co-worker in a rough spell, to stay with him and Edwards at their one-bedroom apartment.
On Dec. 29, 2014, Hilyard and April Edwards got into an altercation, which quickly escalated. Hilyard stabbed Edwards with a kitchen knife and fled the scene. Davis promptly called 911 for help. DeKalb County Police were dispatched, and Officer Joseph Pitts was first to arrive on scene. Per three witness accounts, Officer Pitts did not announce his arrival or identify himself. He entered the home to find the couple’s three-legged dog, Tooter, whom he shot and killed. Upon hearing shots, Davis became alarmed that his girlfriend’s assailant might have returned with a gun. He retrieved his own gun, proceeded to the front room of his home and was shot twice by Officer Pitts.
Both Edwards and neighbors on the scene claim they did not hear Officer Pitts order Davis to put down his weapon before hearing gunshots. Police have stated that Davis was told to drop his firearm, and refused to do so. After the shooting, Edwards came out, saying, “What have you done? Why did you shoot him?”
A second officer arrived on the scene. Davis, prone, said he was unable to feel his legs. He was arrested, charged with aggravated assault of a police officer, and transferred to Grady Hospital in downtown Atlanta in police custody. Hilyard, the roommate and attacker, was apprehended and arrested for the assault on Edwards. Edwards was transported to emergency care, her wounds having punctured an artery in her right arm. She later recovered, and has since returned to Ohio, though she continues to defend Davis’s actions.
Over the next two days, during his stay at the hospital, Davis’s family made numerous attempts to speak with him, both in person and over the phone, but they were denied by police, who said he was “in police custody.” Davis was not allowed to have outside contact, which reportedly evoked frustration on behalf of attending doctors. On December 31, Davis died from his injuries sustained at the hands of Officer Pitts. “It’s heartbreaking to us,” said his sister, Delisa Davis, “that he had to die alone, that he died with the identity of a criminal. He was 44, and had never been convicted of any crime.”
The family has said they were repeatedly blocked from seeing Davis until they were notified, without condolences, that he had “expired.” A representative of DeKalb County Police allegedly said to them, “You can go see him now.”
Davis’s death at the hands of police comes at a moment when activism spotlighting issues of racial justice and police brutality has been surging in Atlanta and across the nation. Supporters of the Davis family feel his case deserves the emphasis given to similar cases in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland and elsewhere. The parallels are stark: a Black man is killed by law enforcement amidst dubious circumstances, and criminalized in the process. In addition, despite conflicting witness statements his case has not been investigated by independent agencies. What is unique in Davis’s case is that he was the one who invited police into his home. The shooting did not take place in the streets.
On Friday, January 23, members of the Davis-Bozeman Law Firm, along with the Davis family, held a press conference at the Decatur headquarters of the Georgia Bureau of Investigations to deliver a letter from Georgia State Senator Vincent Fort (D), requesting that the bureau launch an independent investigation of the shooting, death and arrest of Kevin Davis. “When you call for help, that is what you should get. An independent investigation needs to be launched immediately so this family can understand what has happened to their loved one,” said Mawuli Davis, a partner in the Davis-Bozeman firm. The GBI has yet to respond to the request.
On Monday January 26, Moral Monday Georgia, together with the Georgia NAACP, staged a rally in the rotunda of the Georgia State Capitol to introduce the Georgia Law Enforcement Reform Package, six state legislature bills aimed at limiting police militarization, and increasing community oversight on law enforcement. Davis’s family was in attendance. At the event’s conclusion, members of the crowd placed 168 roses in the center of the rotunda to symbolize each citizen killed by police in the state in the past decade. Delisa Davis, Kevin’s sister, was asked to place the first rose. At the top of the roses lay Kevin Davis’s funeral program.
Later this week, a coalition of organizations including the American Friends Service Committee, Moral Monday Georgia, the National Coalition to Combat Police Terrorism, and the #shutitdownATL Coalition, will hold a vigil for the Davis family at the DeKalb County Courthouse, marking 30 days since Davis’s death. Supporters will march from the courthouse to Sawicki’s sandwich shop, where Davis’s co-workers have created a memorial. The vigil is intended to serve as a grieving space for the family still digesting the shock of his passing. A press conference is planned for the following days to spotlight the case, and to galvanize the local movement against police violence toward people of color.
“This is exactly what Kevin would have wanted of us,” said his sister, “to seek justice. He didn’t deserve what he got.”
By: Jim Chambers