In the wake of news spreading about the police killing of Tony McDade, a Black trans man who lived in Tallahasee, eyewitness reports are surfacing that question the official version of events from police. In their telling, McDade was suspected to be involved in a fatal altercation with Malik Johnson. Afterward, when approached by authorities, McDade waved and pointed a gun. As a result, the police shot and killed him. But some say that the police never announced themselves as police before firing.
“As soon as he pulled up I seen him jump out of the car, swing the door open, and start shooting,” eyewitness Clifford Butler told Ryan Daily of local NPR affiliate WFSU. “I never heard ‘get down, freeze, I’m an officer.’ I never heard nothing. I just heard gunshots.”
Another witness, Kim Simmons, can be heard on a video posted to Facebook claiming that police “jumped right out the car and started shooting” and again stating later that the officers “got out the car blasting.”
Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell told a different story at a press conference at the scene last Wednesday, though.
“The suspect from that stabbing fled on foot, and a description was provided to responding officers. The suspect description that was broadcast was a black female, (wearing) all black, bald, armed with a pistol and a knife,” Revell said. “Our officer called out, ‘Shots fired.’ He said over the radio that the suspect had pointed a gun at him. The suspect was in possession of a handgun, and a bloody knife was found at the scene.”
Reports have revealed that prior to the fatal incident, McDade had uploaded a long video to his Facebook page. In it, he recounted being attacked by a group of men in what he called a racist and transphobic attack. He promised retribution for the attack.
“It’s just Tony the Tiger all alone coming for your blood,” McDade said in the post, “And after I get through killing you, I’m going to go back on live if I have the opportunity, because I will not be going back to prison.” McDade was released from prison in January 2020 after a decade-long sentence on weapons charges.
In the video he indicated he preferred to be killed by police rather than return to prison.
“I am killing and going to be killed because I will not go back into federal prison," McDade said
While details of the events are still emerging, the families of McDade and Jackson are grieving their losses. Jackson’s aunt, Abigail Jackson, told WFSU that both families knew each other and have spoken to each other. They share their grief, but also their frustration at the rumors and misinformation appearing on social media.
“The way that people post on Facebook and convict people without knowing the situation, and wait and let the police or whoever do their investigations, things would be much better," Jackson said.
As the family and community mourn the loss and investigators try to determine what actually happened, Butler was expressing his anger at a system that kills Black and trans persons with impunity.
“[The police are] doing this worldwide and getting away with it," Butler says. "Nobody is getting time in jail about this. It’s like they killing us down like stray dogs.”
He was equally concerned about the chance innocent people could have been hit by a stray bullet during the shooting.
“It could have been kids out here,” Butler lamented.
A GoFundMe intended to help with the funeral expenses for McDade exceeded its initial goal of $25,000. At the time of publishing, the campaign had raised over $95,000 within two days.