Speaking to a crowd that had gathered in the auditorium at the African American Research Library in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday night, Jennifer Young described her son, Jermaine McBean, as a National Honor Society member who helped all his teachers with their computers, earned a full scholarship to college, and went on to have a promising career as a software engineer after receiving his master’s degree from Pace University.
“Jermaine was killed five days before his 34th birthday — a birthday he was looking forward to,” she said in a voice that often cracked with emotion. “Never again will he able to share these times with his friends and family — birthdays, holidays, family cookouts, get-togethers. He’s gone.”
It was hard to miss the irony: Three years ago, Peter Peraza, the officer who shot her son, stood on the same stage to receive the Golden Cross Award from the Broward Sheriff’s Office for his "selfless, honorable, and brave" actions. Then, last December, the State Attorney’s Office charged him with manslaughter — for those same allegedly “selfless, honorable, and brave” actions.
Since then, Peraza has been cleared of all charges in what some say was a misapplication of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. The state of Florida is currently appealing the decision and McBean’s family is pursuing a civil lawsuit. And while they wait, they’re trying to fight back against the narrative that his death can be written off as “suicide by cop” because he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. They’ve repeatedly pointed out that McBean was carrying an unloaded air rifle over his shoulder as he walked home and didn’t present a danger to anyone and that photographs taken at the crime scene show he was wearing earbuds, meaning he likely could not hear the officers who told him to put it down.
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Now, McBean’s life and death are the subject of (In)Justice for Jermaine McBean, an art show hosted by the Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward and currently on display at the African American Research Library. It concludes tonight with performances from local artists and discussions on how to get involved.
“People think of Black Lives Matter and think all we do is protest,” Tifanny Burks, one of the event’s organizers, explains. “We wanted to show that we’re a group that’s mobilizing to make change, and this is just another way we’re highlighting injustices in the community.”
The show features music, spoken word, and other live performances in addition to prints, paintings, and collages by local artists. There’s also a short documentary on Jermaine McBean’s untimely death that serves as a reminder that these kinds of extrajudicial killings are not and should not become normal.
“I was shocked, watching it over again,” Alice Wujciak, who attended the show on Wednesday night, reflected. “I think we need to be shocked all over again, every day.”