As the gospel choir finished the last chords of "Going Up Yonder," Deborah Frazier approached her brother's powder-blue coffin. It was surrounded by heaping bouquets of baby's breath and blue roses. For a moment, the cavernous sanctuary of the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church was silent except the sound of her sobs.
"Lord, have mercy," the elegant 59-year-old former teacher wailed as she reached out and pulled the lid closed. "Oh, my Lord, have mercy." Her legs buckled. Two ushers quickly grabbed her by the arms and carried her to her seat in the front pew. Then she collapsed.
For the past week, Frazier had carried herself with quiet dignity. Wearing a crisp black suit, glasses, and pearls, with her braids swept to the top of her head, she spoke with news crews in her Pompano Beach backyard. She faced down Sheriff Scott Israel and Broward State Attorney Michael Satz in an emergency community meeting. And she solemnly greeted hundreds of mourners at the wake and funeral.
But closing the casket on her brother Greg was more than she could bear.
A week before the funeral, Greg Frazier, age 56, was shot dead by Broward Sheriff's Office deputies while he was eating chicken wings. The story drew national attention, in part because it mirrored a disturbing trend. He had become yet another black man to die at the hands of police officers — the 178th such fatality this year in the United States and the 14th in Florida, according to a database updated by the Guardian. The Broward Sheriff's Office says it has suspended the deputies involved in the shooting but so far has refused to release their names.
"I've seen police brutality all over the country — I never thought I'd be part of one of those families," says Greg's soft-spoken 36-year-old son, Xavier, who flew in from Atlanta as soon as he'd heard the news. "I never thought my father would become a part of this horrible trend around the country, where police shoot first and ask questions later."
Gregory TaForya Frazier, the third of seven children, grew up just down the street from the place where he died in Pompano Beach. His father, Frank Frazier Jr., worked as a mechanic, and his mother, Betty Jane Williams, was a maid at the Beachcomber Hotel. Their extended family traced its roots in the city back to the turn of the 20th Century, when their forebears had moved South to get away from the small town of Cochran, Georgia, where they had worked as sharecroppers since the end of the Civil War.
Frazier grew up spending Sundays at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, a predominantly black congregation on the northwest side of Pompano Beach. He attended Blanche Ely High School, which had recently reopened after an extended legal battle over integration. (When his father had been a student there in the 1950s, it was still called Pompano Beach Negro High.) His best subjects were physical education and math, and he starred at basketball and track. His friends nicknamed him "Clyde" after the legendary NBA player Walt "Clyde" Frazier, who played for the New York Knicks at the time, because he could shoot with both hands. He competed in the statewide track championships all four years and still holds the school's record for the 220-yard dash.
Although he might have earned an athletic scholarship to college, he opted to get a job in construction after graduating from Blanche Ely in 1979. A few years later, his girlfriend at the time gave birth to his first and only child, Xavier.
When the crack epidemic arrived in Pompano Beach in the 1980s, it hit the black community especially hard. The Grace Apartments, where the Fraziers lived, became known for drug deals, flying bullets, and gang violence. In a story about the apartments, the Sun Sentinel described a teenager running by with an Uzi in hand. Then the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development loaned the city $2 million to tear down the apartments and build single-family homes on the site.
Between the ages of 26 and 42, Greg was arrested eight times and pleaded guilty to various charges, including burglary, possession and delivery of cocaine, selling counterfeit contraband, resisting arrest without violence, grand theft in the third degree, and possession of burglary tools. There was only one recorded incident that might have presaged his fatal run-in with cops. In 1999, his sister Deborah claimed repeat violence and obtained a temporary restraining order. Greg was ordered to attend an intervention program. He ended up spending the better part of a decade in jail and gave his address as a local homeless shelter.
"I never seen a young man live on the street so neatly," his uncle, Purcell Blue, recalled at the wake. "He had a pad he was living on, a piece of cardboard. He would take that cardboard when he'd get up, and roll it up, go brush his teeth, wash himself off, and go and try and find some work to do."
After his last arrest, for cocaine possession in 2002, Frazier decided it was time to turn his life around. "I think he just realized he wasn't getting any younger," his cousin, Stephan Baggs, says. "It was time to change his lifestyle. He started associating with different people." He moved back in with Deborah, began regularly attending Bible study, and started as a landscaper for Gregory Pitts Lawn Service, where he worked for 15 years until his death. Aside from one citation for an open-container violation in 2012, he had no further run-ins with the law.
"If you knew Greg, you loved him," says Gregory Pitts, his former boss. "Couple of years ago, I took him to Georgia with me and my wife, when we were having a family reunion up there. About three weeks ago, they called: 'When you going to bring Greg back up here?' It was like everyone had known him for 20 or 30 years or something. That's how he was."
During that last decade and a half of his life, he enjoyed listening to B.B. King, collecting Kangol hats, and spending Sundays watching the Dolphins play. He routinely went around to the homes of elderly people in the neighborhood and cut their grass for free.
Caletha Moore, a neighbor in Pompano Beach, says Frazier rarely walked by her house without stopping to help her with yard work. "If he saw me raking my yard, he'd come get the rake and rake it for me," she says. "It was a shock to me how he got killed. I knew Greg for 15 or 20 years, and I never knew him to bother anybody."
"He was always a jokester, always smiling, making you laugh," remembers Kathy Henley, who grew up nearby and knew Frazier all her life. "If he saw you riding in the car with your boyfriend, he might say, 'Hey! Come over here and give me a ride.' That kind of thing."
Adds Pastor Francis Honore, whose Bible study class Frazier attended: "He had his problems, sure, but everyone has problems. What black man doesn't have a record?"
Pastor Miguel Rosa, who lived next door to Frazier's family, recalled that Frazier was the first one to welcome him — a white man in a predominantly black neighborhood — when he moved in. "He didn't care about color; he didn't care about race. He just wanted to know who was living next door," Rosa said at the funeral. "He told me: 'If you need anything, just ask.'?"
The Friday of the shooting, Pitts, the lawn-care company owner, remembers he headed to Frazier's house to pay him for the week. "I told him: 'Greg, don't get into any trouble tonight,' and he said, 'No, boss man, I ain't gonna get in no trouble.' He came over to the truck and he said, "Boss man, I love you.' I said, 'I love you too.' That's the last thing I ever said to him. Then he said, 'I'll see you Monday morning.'?"
But Monday morning never came. The night of Friday, September 9, Greg got drunk and became rowdy, flipping furniture and flashing a knife. His sister Deborah called 911 in the hopes that officers could get him under control.
What happened after deputies from the Broward Sheriff's Office showed up is still not entirely clear. Quartaze Woodard, Frazier's nephew, says his uncle had calmed down and was sitting in the backyard while eating a plate of chicken and french fries. According to Woodard, Frazier ignored the officers' commands to get down on the ground, and was telling them to leave him alone when they opened fire. Neighbors heard at least five shots. BSO hasn't yet released its version of events, except to say Frazier "produced a knife" and was standing when he was shot.
One week after Frazier's death, activists and community members marched in the sticky heat from his home in northwest Pompano Beach to his wake at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. They wore black T-shirts printed with "Justice for Greg Frazier" in gold letters and the silhouette of a raised fist. Many had been saying for years that officers were too quick to pull the trigger when a suspect was black.
The Fraziers have hired Benjamin Crump, the civil rights attorney best known for representing Trayvon Martin's family, to look into the case, and want to see the officers involved face criminal charges. But looking at how similar cases have played out across the nation, it's hard to feel optimistic. In 2015, not one police officer was convicted on murder or manslaughter charges after fatally shooting a civilian in the line of duty, according to Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson, who tracks the data. The year before showed the same result. In 2013, one officer in Virginia received a three-year sentence. The reason? Jurors and judges both tend to side with the police, and prosecutors often don't want to press charges. "To charge an officer in a fatal shooting, it takes something so egregious, so over-the-top that it cannot be explained in any rational way," Stinson told the Washington Post.
Based on the information released to date, Gregory Frazier's shooting doesn't seem to pass that test. BSO has said that none of the deputies involved was wearing a body camera, and no bystanders have come forward with cell-phone videos. If the case makes it to court, the officers involved will likely say they felt threatened and point out that Frazier had a knife. His sister, nephew, and niece will probably say what they've been saying all along: He had calmed down, he didn't have a gun, and the knife he was holding was just a rusty old Swiss Army-style pocket knife. They'll ask, once again, why he had to die.
But all of that is still in the future, because it will probably take months, if not years, for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to wrap up its investigation. In the meantime, Frazier's family has buried his body at Westview Community Cemetery, which was built by black residents of Pompano Beach in the 1950s, when even burial grounds were segregated. These days, it's surrounded on all sides by industrial warehouses. A constant hum comes from Copans Road as trucks pull off I-95.
Most of the gravestones are small and have little adornment — just a name and two dates, maybe an inscription noting if the deceased was born in Georgia or Alabama, or had served in the military. But each one tells a story about what it's like to be black in America.
Here's Taylor Lewis, who was born Christmas Day five years after the end of the Civil War and was buried in the "colored" cemetery when he died 79 years later. Here's George Washington Jones, who lived through the years when Florida lynched more black people per capita than any other state, and would have been able to recall the day when a white mob led by members of the Ku Klux Klan strung Reuben Stacy up from a tree on Old Davie Road. Here's Obie Chester Night Jr., who served in the Vietnam War and returned home to find white people fighting to keep their kids out of the schools he had attended.
And here's Gregory Frazier, shot by police officers in his own backyard in 2016.
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.