On May 30 in Omaha, Nebraska, protests took place in response to the death of George Floyd. As often is the case during such protests, property was vandalized, buildings were damaged, and businesses were looted. A confrontation took place between bar owner Jake Gardner and protester James Scurlock, which ended with Gardner shooting and killing Scurlock. District Attorney Don Kleine declined to bring charges against Gardner, explaining that the shooting was self-defense. Naturally, because Gardner was white and Scurlock was black, supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement erupted in outrage, assuming that Scurlock must have been an innocent victim and Gardner a murderer. So, a grand jury was convened and special prosecutor Frederick Franklin was appointed to lead the grand jury investigation. On September 15, the grand jury indicted Gardner on charges of manslaughter, use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony, attempted first-degree assault, and terroristic threats.
On September 19, Gardner died by suicide. A veteran of multiple tours of duty with the Marines, he had recently told local news channel KETV that he was “more anxious now than when I was flying to Iraq.” According to his defense attorney, Stu Dornan, he had received death threats and as a result had hired a bodyguard and had moved to California. Gardner felt that the BLM riots resembled a war zone. According to Dornan, someone shattered the window of the bar with a pole, which Gardner thought was a bullet. As people began climbing through the broken window, Gardner pulled the fire alarm, called police, and went outside. There, in video footage described by District Attorney Kleine, Gardner’s father and several protesters pushed and shoved each other. Someone shouted that Gardner had a gun, causing a group of people to tackle him. He fired two warning shots, but then Scurlock jumped on him, and he fired the fatal shot.
“The grand jury indictment was a shock to him,” said Dornan. “He was really shook up.” Another attorney for Gardner, Tom Monaghan, said that his client had already been convicted in the court of public opinion, particularly on social media. “We have to stop the lies,” he said.
Franklin, the special prosecutor, attempted to justify the charges. Gardner was “philosophically opposed” to the protests, Franklin said (as if that is a bad thing). He and other individuals were inside the bar with the lights off during the protests, which Franklin characterized as “set[ting] up an ambush inside his business, waiting on a looter to come in so he could ‘light him up.'” Franklin acknowledged that “vandals and people engaged in destroying did just that” but claimed that “there was not a single attempt to go inside the property.” Video taken by a protester showed the initial confrontation between Gardner and Scurlock and demonstrated that Gardner was the aggressor, Franklin said, without providing details. As far as I am concerned, whenever a confrontation happens between someone who is part of a mob engaged in looting, vandalism, and destruction and someone who is not, the person who is part of the mob is necessarily the aggressor. Even if no one had vandalized Gardner’s business or tackled him, he would still be in the right and Scurlock would be in the wrong. The fact that several people knocked Gardner to the ground for having a gun makes this even more true. Bearing arms is a fundamental right, and it is an act of aggression to physically tackle someone for exercising it. The intolerance, nastiness, and destructiveness demonstrated by supporters of the BLM movement is unacceptable, and I support anyone who has the courage and independence of thought to stand up to these bullies.
Making things even worse, after causing Gardner’s death with these unjust charges, Franklin insulted him. “I think it’s contrary to the beliefs that I have, for anyone to engage in that sort of conduct,” he said of Gardner’s suicide. “But beyond my personal beliefs, him doing so deprived the community from having this evidence play out at trial.” Franklin also relayed a comment from a friend: “You have two families, devastated by the loss of a son, or brother, or father. But that’s what hate produces.”
This statement is true, but in the opposite way that Franklin and his friend intended. There was nothing hateful about Gardner’s actions. He was simply trying to defend his business, his father, and himself. It is the rioting mobs, who began their senseless destruction shortly after the death of George Floyd and four months later show no signs of stopping, who are truly hateful. Supporting a movement based on the presumption that most people are racists who think that black lives do not matter, smashing and burning property, destroying businesses, verbally and physically accosting innocent people, and bullying into silence anyone who dares to disagree with their opinions… these are all acts of hatred. Assuming because of his race that Gardner was the aggressor, demanding that he be charged, and slandering him on social media, these are acts of hatred as well. So yes, Gardner’s death, tragically, is exactly what hate produces. And even his death wasn’t enough to satisfy the hateful mobs. “People are rejoicing and carrying on and celebrating because another life was lost,” Gardner’s cousin told KETV.
To every person who participated in or encouraged destructive riots, to every person who criticized Gardner on social media, to every person who demanded that he face legal action, to every person who presumed his guilt, to every grand juror who voted to indict him, and to special prosecutor Frederick Franklin: Jake Gardner’s blood is on your hands.