by BAR editor and columnist, Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
A Nigerian mother started out at the bottom in the United States, raised and educated five children, and bought a spacious home in one of the nation’s wealthiest counties. But that didn’t stop a cop from shooting her son to death and claiming he had wielded an ice-pick in his broken right hand. Olubummi Comfort Oludipe has now found her voice and mission: "to make sure that no other Black family suffers the death of their children by killer cops."
Black Lives Matter: A Call to Pan-African Unity – Justice for Emmanuel!
by BAR editor and columnist, Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
“How could she have imagined the American dream that she saw on Nigerian TV would become her American nightmare?”
It was February 19, 2011, a sparkling-clear Saturday morning, one of those rare days in Washington, DC when it feels like anything is possible. Emmanuel Okutuga, a senior at Bowie State University (located in a suburb of Washington, DC) looked at the sky and thought – what a great day to be alive. However, he had so much to accomplish before he could continue studying for his final university examinations. He was to graduate in three months and was looking forward to a bright and exciting future.
Emmanuel had tasted success. He had interned at DC Cable and was a bright and distinguished student. But first, before hitting the books, he had to take supplies to his mother and help her with her vending stand. He had done so hundreds of times and today would be no different. It was a small sacrifice considering how hard his mother worked to take care of him and his siblings. As Emmanuel made his way to his mother’s vending stand, he could not have possibly imagined that within 2 hours, a Montgomery County policeman, Christopher Jordan, would end his life by shooting him in the forehead and in the torso.
The police office claimed that Emmanuel threatened him with an ice-pick and that he had to shoot in self-defense. However, what Officer Jordan could not have known is that Emmanuel had broken his right hand and could not possibly hold an ice-pick.
His backpack, containing money that his mother had given him to buy supplies, would now lie in his blood on the streets of the nation’s capital. His books and all of his knowledge of mass communications would be of no consequence. The fact that he could have served humanity as a mass communications expert was now an empty promise.
“Emmanuel had broken his right hand and could not possibly hold an ice-pick.”
Olubummi Comfort Oludipe waited at her vending stand for her son. She wondered what had happened to him. She tried to call him, to no avail. She thought, perhaps, he forgot to come or had to attend to his studies.
Comfort, as she prefers to be called, is a beautiful and engaging young woman who had left her native Nigeria 30 years ago. Like thousands of her countrymen, Comfort had fantasized coming to America to pursue “the dream” so often talked about on Voice of America and communicated through films and music heard around the world. In many respects, Comfort had achieved more than she could have imagined in an extraordinarily short period of time. She was a successful, self-made businesswoman. She owned six vending stands in the most profitable sections of Washington, DC. Through her hard work, she had educated five children, who attended such prestigious universities as Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland. Because of her sacrifice, her children did not have to take out student loans.
Members of Congress, famous lawyers and businessmen knew Comfort’s name and devotedly patronized her stands. One stand was located near the White House another near the Reagan International Trade Center. She custom built a six bedroom house on 1.5 acres of land in one of the most expensive communities in America. She was now an employer, not simply an employee. Comfort had made it. She epitomized the American dream. Everyday, she saw evidence, through her children, that the sacrifice she had made to leave family and friends back in Nigeria was the right decision. America had opened its arms to her and thousands of other Nigerians.
“Mom, Mom…he’s dead. The police shot him…. “
Comfort received a call from her daughter around mid-night on Sunday. “Mom, Mom…he’s dead. The police shot him…. “ Comfort recalls that she could not make sense of what her daughter was saying. She recognized, that it was her daughter’s voice but she couldn’t understand the words – the room was swaying – the earth was moving – no… it couldn’t be. She called her eldest son who tried to calm her down by rationalizing that perhaps the information was a mistake. Comfort and her family quickly made their way to the police station to find out what was happening. An official at the police station informed the family that her son, Emmanuel had indeed been shot and killed by police and that his body was now laying in a morgue in Baltimore, Maryland.
The police told the family not to come to Baltimore until Monday to identify the body. They would have to wait to identify the body “during regular business hours.” The family decided to contact a funeral home to pick up Emmanuel and bring him back to Washington, DC.
Comfort contacted an attorney who informed her, through his investigation, that a video was available – filmed from a Montgomery County-owned liquor store. The attorney told Comfort that from his viewing of the video, her son did not pose a threat to the officer and that the ice-pick that the officer claimed Emmanuel possessed was not in his hand at the time of the shooting. (See link to video below.) The ice-pick that the officer referred to was actually in Emmanuel’s backpack. He used it to help his mother break up ice in her vending business. Despite repeated request, Montgomery County police refused to turn over Emmanuel’s backpack to the family. The Montgomery County liquor store turned over the video to the Montgomery County prosecutor’s office. According to Comfort, during the Grand Jury investigation, the prosecutor’s office informed Comfort’s attorney that “someone in the prosecutor’s office mistakenly deleted the video tape.” At that point, the Montgomery County’s prosecutor’s office filed to have the case dismissed for lack of evidence. The judge ruled in favor of the police officer and determined that Emmanuel’s death was a justifiable homicide. Today, Police Office Jordan patrols the streets of Montgomery County without a blemish on his record.
“The ice-pick that the officer claimed Emmanuel possessed was not in his hand at the time of the shooting.”
Several questions must be posed: since massive surveillance and video taping has only been available for about two decades, why was the taping considered the only piece of evidence of importance? Before the use of video tapes, other evidence was used in the determination of guilt or innocence. Why didn’t the judge consider eyewitness testimonies? Why wasn’t police officer Jordan deposed by Comfort’s attorney and subjected to rigorous questioning of his account of the killing? For example, was this officer ever a member of a white supremacist group? Had officer Jordan ever discharged his gun or killed another unarmed African-American man? Why wasn’t a jury empaneled to determine guilt or innocence? As Comfort sarcastically muses, “the judge determined that Officer Jordan’s killing of my son was justified but he did not want the evidence to see the light of day.”
Comfort filed appeals in Annapolis, Maryland to no avail. There would be no justice for Emmanuel in America. He would join the thousands of unarmed Black young men killed by police with impunity.
Attorney’s fees combined with burial expenses were financially overwhelming. But, the emotional turmoil was like a hurricane. All the financial gains that Comfort had accumulated since coming to America was eviscerated almost in a micro-second. Comfort’s dreams, her vision for her family, her son, Emmanuel – all gone. She found herself, 30 years after coming to America – financially ruined, bleeding from legal expenses, her cries for justice considered mere nuisance in the American criminal justice system. And, she found herself homeless. How could she have imagined the American dream that she saw on Nigerian TV would become her American nightmare?
“Whether you are Nigerian, African-American, Sierra Leonean, Trinidadian, Jamaican or Afro-Colombian, we are all catching hell in America.”
I met Comfort during Justice Monday demonstrations in front of the Department of Justice. We successfully fought for the release of the Reports of Investigation of the killings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. Despite the bone crushing cold of below zero weather, Comfort attended and spoke at every demonstration. She is a mainstay at anti-police terror demonstrations. She courageously testified before the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Montgomery County Police Investigation on Police Abuse.
One thing is evident, whether you are Nigerian, African-American, Sierra Leonean, Trinidadian, Jamaican or Afro-Colombian, we are all catching hell in America. It is equally clear that these murders take place with state-sanctioned impunity. The murders of our children and family members demand a Pan African response. This is a wake-up call for African people across national boundaries to stop the in-fighting, self-hatred and come together to determine how to win the war against white supremacy that is literally killing us. The African Union (AU) must rise to the challenge of speaking out against US state-sponsored murder of Black people and provide affirmative programs for Africans in the diaspora (who are so inclined) to repatriate to Africa.
Comfort has now found her voice and mission: to make sure that no other Black family suffers the death of their children by killer cops. She has also found her sea legs. Comfort has started two new businesses; she’s once again active in her church and caring for her remaining children. Comfort is fighting for Black mothers and children in America. But, she needs your help. We must demand a full, transparent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the murder of Emmanuel. Comfort also needs an attorney who will help her fight for justice. Please find ways below that you can help:
To see her attorney discuss the video of Emmanuel’s murder and family members request for public support: http://justiceforemmanuel.com
Mama Emmanuel (JusticeForEmmanuel.com) speaks at Justice Vigil, Dept. of. Justice
Please make a donation through PayPal at: [email protected]
And http: www.gofundme.com/rn3rh8g
Contact: [email protected]
FaceBook page www.facebook.com/Justiceforemmanuel
Justice for Emmanuel
4423 Grant Street NE
Washington, DC 20019
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. She worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered South African vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit led to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). She is Director of Transparency and Accountability for the Green Shadow Cabinet, serves on the Advisory Board of ExposeFacts.com and coordinates the Hands Up Coalition, DC.