Eight hours after the police officer who shot his brother was cleared of manslaughter charges, Andrew McBean stood onstage at the African American Research Library in Sistrunk for the monthly Black Lives Matter meeting. Rather than shrivel in defeat, the young black man captivated an entire auditorium. He aimed to keep the focus on the officers, the department, and in a bigger sense, the system that fumbled his brother’s life and any chance of justice.
“Jermaine died and police lied,” he said. “Mistakes happen. Accidents happen. Coverups are planned.”
For the last three years, McBean’s family and hundreds of Black Lives Matter activists have called for BSO Deputy Peter Peraza to be prosecuted for shooting Jermaine McBean as he was walking home with an unloaded air rifle perched on his shoulders. They didn’t get it Wednesday.
Instead, the Black Lives Matter Alliance of Broward regrouped for the biggest meeting they’ve hosted since forming last June. Inspired by the McBean family’s perseverance, activists vowed to continue fighting for Jermaine McBean and South Florida’s communities of color.
“I don’t know what justice will look like for the McBean family,” says Jasmen Rogers, a Black Lives Matter activist. “For the rest of their lives, they will have to live without him. The best we can do is to take action and prevent police overreach, whether it be [through] more protests or forums.”
In July 2013, Jermaine McBean had purchased an air rifle from a pawn shop near his apartment in Oakland Park. Neighbors called 911. BSO officers who arrived on the scene say they told McBean to put the gun down. McBean didn’t, and Peraza said later that he shot the 33-year-old computer expert when he believed McBean was turning around.
A piece of evidence that surfaced a year later, however, shows discrepancies in the officers’ version of events. They claimed McBean could hear them as they urged him to put down his weapon. But a photo uncovered by the family’s private investigator reveals that McBean had earbuds in and was most likely listening to music. The family and activists have accused BSO of trying to cover up that detail since the earbuds were suspiciously found stuffed in McBean’s pockets.
It was a small victory for activists and the family when Peter Peraza was indicted on manslaughter charges earlier this year. He became the first Broward police officer who committed a fatal on-duty shooting to be indicted since 1980, even though there had been 168 fatal on-duty shootings in Broward during that time.
At the trial, prosecutors said Peraza was too quick to shoot and that based on the bullets’ trajectories, McBean could not have been facing the officers when he was shot. But Peraza’s lawyers argued that McBean was mentally unstable (even though Peraza couldn’t have known that when he shot him) and that Peraza feared for his life, citing self-defense under the Stand Your Ground law.
And on Wednesday, as all charges were dropped in Freddie Gray’s trial in Baltimore, Broward Circuit Court Judge Michael Usan dismissed Peraza’s manslaughter charges. The family and activists were especially disappointed because this might be the first successful Stand Your Ground argument ever used by a police officer in Florida. They worry it set a precedent. The Broward State Attorney’s Office has already announced that they will appeal the decision.
At the Black Lives Matter meeting, Andrew McBean criticized Scott Israel, who has repeatedly said he wants to restrict use of Stand Your Ground. McBean called on Scott Israel to take back the awards given to Peter Peraza (on the same stage Andrew McBean was speaking on) just three months after the officer shot his brother.
“All lives matter," McBean said, "but some matter more than others, and that needs to change.”
McBean’s mother, Jennifer Young, watched intently from the fist row. She nodded along as her son spoke. After the hour-long meeting, she looked tired and her glasses hung off her nose.
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“My son was an honest, decent, caring person... He wasn’t looking to die,” Young tells New Times. “It’s too much sometimes. After [the ruling], I couldn’t speak. It doesn’t seem like we will ever get justice.”
"We have to recognize the strength of this family," says Jesse Cosme, a Black Lives Matter activist. "They have been put through the ringer for the past three years because police killed an innocent man."
Perhaps even more important than a conviction, Jermaine McBean and his family have inspired an entire movement in South Florida.
The Black Lives Matter Alliance of Broward will be hosting a healing circle at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Megaphone, which is located at 1017 NW Sixth St. in Fort Lauderdale.