Haber’s assertion that he “misspoke” in his original statement is the blandest possible gloss on what appears to have happened: The police on the scene dissembled. That’s what Edwards family and friends said from the start. There was no alcohol found in the car, and there is apparently no evidence the kids in it were drinking. While the car’s passengers also reported hearing gunshots as they were going to the car, they were not armed. (It’s not clear whether shots were fired or what the sound was.)
“Not only have Jordan’s brothers lost their best friend; they witnessed firsthand his violent, senseless, murder,” the Edwards family said in a statement. “Their young lives will forever be altered. No one, let alone young children, should witness such horrific, unexplainable, violence.” The family asked the public to refrain from protests as they plan his funeral.
The Edwards case is an important one, because it could be the first high-profile police shooting of the Trump era, and it could offer some indications about the direction of police reform in the United States today. Barack Obama’s second term saw burgeoning popular pressure to stop police killings of young black men, and to improve both public and government oversight of police departments. From Ferguson, Missouri, to Cleveland, Baltimore to New York City, the deaths drove outrage and protests. The Obama administration was generally supportive of the reform movement, pressing for better statistics, use of body cams, and strict oversight of troubled police departments.
But Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has promised to reverse many of those stands. He sought to withdraw from an already negotiated oversight agreement in Baltimore, has spoken about the damage he believes federal investigation does to police morale, and signaled he’ll pull back from involvement. As for Trump, he was dismissive of the Black Lives Matter movement, and made alliances with some of its most strident critics.
The story of Jordan Edwards was not the only one involving police violence against black men in the news on Tuesday. In the morning, Michael Slager, a former North Charleston police officer who was caught on video shooting Walter Scott as he fled, then moving evidence around, pleaded guilty to violating Scott’s civil rights. He could face a life sentence for that charge, but as part of the plea, prosecutors agreed to drop murder charges against Slager. A previous trial ended in a mistrial.
Later on Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Sessions’s Justice Department would decline to bring federal civil-rights charges against an officer who shot Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in July 2016, as he pinned Sterling on his back.
Even by the standards of these stories, Edwards’s death is a disturbing case. (Haber choked up while making his statement.) The boys had no alcohol or weapons, and in addition, all reports suggest Edwards was a well-liked, affable, hard-working, and accomplished student. Of course, one’s character should not matter in these cases: A less-than-spotless record does not justify extrajudicial execution at the hands of police, but public perception can determine the course of a story. Was it unwise to drive away from police? Perhaps so, but Edwards was not driving, they boys were apparently rattled by the gunfire, and the Supreme Court has definitively ruled that police cannot fire on fleeing suspects who pose no serious threat to officers or others.