The day after Gregory Frazier was fatally shot in his Pompano Beach back yard, his blood was still on the chair where he’d been sitting, along with a chicken wing that he’d dropped when officers arrived. Flies were buzzing around the Styrofoam container of the food he’d been eating.
“Can I clean this up?” his sister, Deborah Frazier, wondered out loud. “Or will they say that I interfered with the evidence?”
Shay Chery, a friend from the neighborhood and a community activist, pointed out that the Broward Sheriff’s Office hadn’t roped off the area with crime-scene tape.
“You know what this means?” she told Frazier. “It means they’re never coming back.”
On Friday night, deputies from the BSO responded to a 911 call from Deborah Frazier, who told dispatchers that her brother was fighting with her daughter and that he had a knife. She’d hoped the police would come and deescalate the situation. But the exact opposite happened. When officers arrived, family members say, Gregory Frazier had already calmed down and was outside eating. He ignored orders to get down on the ground and asked them to leave him alone. According to the BSO, he produced a knife. In response, two deputies opened fire.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office has placed the officers involved in the shooting on administrative leave and has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the incident. But family and friends are already worried about the integrity of that investigation, given that Frazier’s blood-splattered plate of food, which the family considers to be crucial evidence, was left behind at the scene, and that it took five hours for his body to be removed.
“This is what happens when police investigate the police,” Chery said afterward.
Furthermore, black residents of Pompano Beach say that the circumstances of Frazier’s untimely death are symptomatic of a problem they’ve been pointing out for years: police don’t know people in the neighborhoods that they serve and are too quick to shoot and kill people of color rather than trying to negotiate and diffuse conflicts.
The treatment of Austin Harrouff, a 19-year-old white man who allegedly killed two strangers in Tequesta earlier this summer, highlights this problem. As New Times previously pointed out, police officers fired stun guns, unleashed a dog, and finally pulled Harrouff off the man whose face he was eating, then took him to jail alive. Meanwhile, Frazier, who hadn’t hurt anyone and was simply refusing to comply with orders, was killed.
“Yes, he had a pocket knife. A rusty pocket knife,” Deborah Frazier told the Miami Herald on Saturday. “I believe those three cops could have sat down, talked to him, used tasers, anything to constrain him.”
Some say part of the problem is that, for the past 17 years, Pompano Beach has contracted with the Broward Sheriff’s Office to provide police services. It’s the largest city in Broward County not to have its own independent police force, and one result is that officers often live outside the communities where they work.
“If Pompano Beach had its own police, then maybe this wouldn’t have happened,” Shay Chery pointed out on Saturday. “They would have known who he was and known he wasn’t dangerous.”
Ever since news of the shooting spread, residents have been demanding to know why it happened in the first place. They want assurances that similar incidents won’t occur in the future. And since the deputies were from the Broward Sheriff’s Office, it’s not just Pompano Beach residents but people from all over the county who are concerned.
On Sunday, friends, neighbors, and community activists marched from the Fraziers’ house in Pompano Beach to Martin Luther King Boulevard, holding signs that asked, “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?” On Monday night, they crowded into the Greater Bethel AME Church for an emergency community meeting featuring Sheriff Scott Israel and State Attorney Michael Satz. Then, on Tuesday, they packed the Pompano Beach City Commission meeting to demand police reform, with many suggesting the city sever its contract with the BSO.
Sarahca Peterson pointed out that of 88 officers who currently patrol the predominantly black neighborhoods in northwest Pompano Beach, only 15 are black. “Those people need to reflect that community,” she said Tuesday night.
“About a third of Pompano is black,” Asa Roberts Shaw from the Black Lives Matter Alliance told the city commission, “so this is not something you can sweep under the rug.”
Willie Jones, who recently lost a bid to unseat Scott Israel as county sheriff, spoke on behalf of the Frazier family. “They cannot understand why something like this can happen in the 21st Century, in their home,” he said. “We need the Broward Sheriff’s Office to stop holding meetings, stop discussing this. We need action.”
Towards the end of the public comment period, 11-year-old Courtavia Westbrook stood up. “I knew Mr. Greg,” she started, and then immediately began to cry. “Why y’all have to shoot Mr. Greg?” she asked. “Are you gonna shoot my brother and my sister and friends?”
For a brief moment, everyone in the commission chambers was silent.