The Montgomery, Alabama City Council issued a statement Tuesday night apologizing to the family of Black man, mistakenly gunned down by police 37 years ago, but the family of Bernard Whitehurst says the statement is not enough.
“They read something off of a sheet. That’s not the kind of apology I’m talking about,” his widow Florence Whitehurst told reporters. “When you apologize to somebody, you come to them. You console them. You hold their hands and look them in the face.”
Bernard Whitehurst was fatally shot by Montgomery police on Dec. 2, 1975. An investigation showed Whitehurst was mistaken for a robbery suspect, and that police tried to cover up the truth by placing a gun beside his body.
A scandal followed, and when the investigation ended, several city officials had resigned, including the man serving as mayor at the time.
The family has not received compensation for the loss, and lawyers said the statute of limitations has run out.
Florence Whitehurst still remembers the day her husband died. He had left home around 3:30 p.m. But he never came home that night.
She remembered seeing something on the evening news about the police shooting someone, but they didn’t give a name.
“I didn’t know they had killed him until the next morning when my mother-in-law called to tell me,” she said.
The years immediately following the shooting death of her husband were not easy for the young Whitehurst family.
The young mother and a widow, Whitehurst had a two-month-old, twin three-year-olds and a four-year-old at the time of her husband’s death.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” she said. “When I went to get on Social Security, they told me I would be getting $97 a month. That was in 1975. I couldn’t do much with that.”
Her husband was working as a cook at McDonald’s before he was killed, and he hadn’t been on that job too long. “He didn’t have much Social Security for us draw. We were young, and he hadn’t been working a long time.”
Growing up in the southern city that once served as home to the Confederacy, Florence Whitehurst said her husband did not like to be around police officers.
“When he would see them, he would just start running,” she said. “I would tell him, ‘you don’t have to run,’ but he would still do it.” His running didn’t mean Bernard Whitehurst was doing anything wrong, he just didn’t trust police, his wife said.
Current Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange says that city is different now. Next week, he said there will be a formal event for the Whitehurst family. At that event, the family will be presented a framed copy of the apology resolution, Strange said.
The resolution was unanimously passed and says that council members “recognize the grief, pain and suffering caused by actions years ago.”
Stacy Whitehurst, the oldest of the couple’s children, said he was pleased that the city is planning a marker to honor his father, but that doesn’t go far enough.
“We want justice,” Stacy Whitehurst said. “There are still people around who were involved in this, but no one ever went to jail.”
Since he was old enough to fight for justice, Stacy Whitehurst said he has been working on behalf of his family.
The Whitehurst family was represented by lawyer Donald Watkins in the aftermath of Bernard Whitehurst’s death.
Watkins says the city’s response to the family has been inadequate.
The Whitehurst family deserves an apology and adequate compensation, Watkins said via email. Bernard Whitehurst’s death and subsequent police coverup in 1975 were inexcusable.