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A White Bar Owner May Face Charges For Killing A Black Protester In Omaha


Now to Omaha, Neb. That's where a white bar owner fatally shot a 22-year-old black man Saturday night amid chaos in the streets as protests were happening. After initially saying no charges would be filed against the bar owner, the local district attorney now says he's petitioning for a special prosecutor and a grand jury investigation - that according to reporting by the Omaha World-Herald newspaper. NPR's Kirk Siegler is in Omaha.

Kirk, hello.


MCCAMMON: So tell me where you are right now, what you're seeing.

SIEGLER: Well, I'm in a park in North Omaha. This is a traditionally black neighborhood in an historically segregated city. There's a protest planned here. Protests have been occurring across the city for the last five days and nights, mostly over in downtown, where you'll see boarded-up storefronts, quite a few spray-painted signs actually on those boards, saying, his name is James. That's for 22-year-old James Scurlock, who was killed here in the shooting last weekend.

MCCAMMON: And on Monday, the district attorney there said he would not file charges against the bar owner, saying the man acted in self-defense. Has there been any violence in response to that?

SIEGLER: Not really, Sarah. I'd say the protests began here, like I said, Friday after the police killing of George Floyd up in Minneapolis. Overwhelmingly, they've been peaceful, though there has been some violence. Protesters put the blame for that on police, who they say have showed up with force. There was really an escalation, I think, after James Scurlock was shot Saturday night.

You know, this is Omaha in a conservative state. It seems to be taking a very law-and-order stance to these demonstrations, allowing peaceful protests, for the most part, during the day but then, you know, overwhelming police presence at night here, especially last night after the curfew. Things were pretty calm last night, though - with only a couple of arrests compared to dozens in recent days.

MCCAMMON: So mostly calm there, you say, Kirk. What has been the response to the shooting death?

SIEGLER: Well, a lot of people in the city are upset about the DA's original decision, though, certainly, some people sympathize with the bar owner, who says he acted in self-defense during what was apparently a scuffle. People in the black community I've been talking to here are sad. They're angry. They point to what they say has been a legacy of systemic racism in this city.

Let me give you a snapshot, Sarah, of just how tense it's been. Black civic and faith leaders met with the mayor and Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts this week. Pastor Jarrod Parker of the St. Mark Baptist Church posted a video saying he walked out of that meeting after he said the Republican governor disrespected them. Let's hear from that now.


JARROD PARKER: He called black pastors and black leaders in Omaha you people. And I walked out on him. That's why this city is going to go up in flames.

SIEGLER: Now, to be clear, Omaha is not up in flames. Possibly, he was being metaphoric there, although protests are continuing, as I've said. Governor Ricketts has apologized, saying he was misheard, and he's requested a meeting with Pastor Parker.

MCCAMMON: So what's next here, Kirk?

SIEGLER: Well, I think, Sarah, a lot of people here will welcome the DA calling for a special prosecutor and a grand jury investigation. That's what James Scurlock's family has wanted, you know, since the DA's initial announcement back on Monday that there would initially be no charges. The DA has been under a lot of pressure. It sounds like he changed his stance in a nod to what's happening right now across the country, you know, acknowledging there's a lot of mistrust in the justice system.

I'd end with, you know, Omaha police today, Sarah, said they're asking the public to come forward with any evidence they may have from that scene, cellphone video or otherwise. But there are a lot of questions about the shooting and the scuffle, still, that led up to it.

MCCAMMON: That's NPR's Kirk Siegler in Omaha.

Thanks, Kirk.

SIEGLER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kirk Siegler
As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.