Kenneth Bailey Jr. loved classic cars, music, and his family. He had three sisters, two brothers, and two five-year-old sons, born within a few days of each other to different mothers. With a goal of opening his own business, he had dreams of going to barber school.
“He always liked to look neat,” says his mother, Louise Pratt.
But Durham police officers saw none of that when they shot and killed the twenty-four-year-old on February 15, Bailey’s family says.
“We will have to live with this, the fact that he was shot like he was a four-legged animal and somebody was hungry, like they was out hunting,” says Sharon Chapman, Bailey’s aunt. “It’s not fair. It’s not right.”
The family says that members of the Durham Police Department’s Selective Enforcement Team, wearing plain clothes with police vests over top, entered Bailey’s cousin’s house on Glenbrook Drive that day with guns drawn. They had an order for his arrest for missing a curfew he had to adhere to while awaiting trial for a robbery charge. Witnesses to the shooting say the officers arrived in unmarked cars, although hours later the Durham Housing Authority neighborhood was packed with police vehicles.
The DPD’s internal review of the shooting is still in progress, according to DPD spokeswoman Kammie Michael. The State Bureau of Investigation’s inquiry, which is customary following an officer-involved shooting, is “pending completion of reports, lab work, and official autopsy report,” says Patty McQuillan, spokeswoman for that agency.
Officer Thomas Greathouse, Officer Alan D’Meza, and Corporal John Lloyd are on administrative duty with pay, Michael says.
Two weeks ago, with the help of the community organization SpiritHouse, Walltown Neighborhood Ministries, and the NAACP, the family released what it learned after interviewing residents of the Club Boulevard neighborhood where Bailey was killed. Witnesses to the shooting said they never heard officers give any orders to Bailey to drop the weapon they say he pointed at them. Instead, they told the family they heard him “plead for his life between shots.” Pratt says her son was shot once in the calf and twice in the back. No one the family spoke to reported seeing Bailey point a gun.
“Why were gunshots fired after only a twenty-second chase?” Pratt asks. “Once he was shot the first time, he went down. Why wasn’t that enough?” She believes police are “trying to justify shooting” Bailey by saying he drew a weapon.
They began the review the day of the shooting, not just to find out what happened but to show residents of the grieving neighborhood that someone was listening.
“It’s not atypical to have the story from the community members and the story from police be different,” says Nia Wilson, executive director of SpiritHouse. “The issue for us and for people in the community is that, nine times out of ten, the story that comes from the eyewitnesses is never the one that the larger community believes.”
The family still has questions: Why, after Bailey didn’t answer calls from pretrial services, was the next step to send armed officers into his cousin’s house? Couldn’t the Criminal Justice Resource Center, which oversaw his pretrial release, have asked a family member to bring him in? And why does the official response to a police shooting always seem to follow the same script?
“Whatever their intentions, the police are not reviewed by anyone but the police,” says Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, chairman of Walltown Neighborhood Ministries. “And that seems to be a setup for a situation where people protect themselves, and people tell the same story every time because they know that’s the story that holds up in court. The community doesn’t trust the process.”
The family also questions the media response to Bailey’s death. Chapman says “nothing nice” was reported about her nephew. Instead, reporters trusted the police narrative when they chose to publish Bailey’s criminal record and mug shot. Missing from explanations of why Bailey was on pretrial release, Pratt says, was that he planned to fight the charges against him.
“Kenny spent over two months in jail last fall, awaiting an opportunity to prove his innocence before receiving pretrial release in early November 2016,” the family said in a March 31 statement. “He did not want to go back to jail. He wanted to be free, and he wanted an opportunity to prove that the charges against him had no merit.”
While on pretrial release, Bailey was ordered to wear an ankle-monitoring device and be home between the hours of seven p.m. and seven a.m. According to the Criminal Justice Resource Center, Bailey violated his curfew three times: on February 8, by forty-nine minutes; on February 11, by eleven minutes; and on February 14, when CJRC says he spent the night at a hotel.
The shooting has traumatized the community where Bailey was shot in broad daylight, as kids were riding their bikes and getting off the school bus. It has also left a hole in the Walltown neighborhood where Bailey grew up. His fifteen-year-old brother can hardly stand to hear mention of Bailey’s name.
“He left two five-year-old boys that still have questions,” Pratt says, holding back tears.
Family representatives also say Bailey’s death is part of a larger issuean “epidemic” of police shootings, as Wilson puts it. Just days before Bailey’s death, a highway patrol trooper shot and killed a man near Duke Street in Durham. In November, Durham police shot and killed Frank Clark in the McDougald Terrace neighborhood.
According to a Washington Post database, 271 people have been shot and killed by police thus far in 2017, including eleven people in North Carolina.
“Kenny was born and raised here,” Wilson says. “Durham lost somebody. We all did. Part of the problem is that we don’t say that. He is a son of Durham, North Carolina, and Durham lost him.”
This article appeared in print with the headline “Libeling the Dead.”