By Matthew Haag
New York Times News Service
On Thanksgiving night, the sounds of gunshots inside an Alabama mall sent shoppers diving for cover and sprinting for exits. Outside the mall, Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. pulled out a gun and rushed to protect shoppers, his family said.
But Bradford was soon dead. An off-duty police officer working security at the mall, Riverchase Galleria in Hoover, fatally shot him, authorities said. In the days that followed, the official account by the Hoover Police Department of what happened inside and outside the mall has shifted drastically.
At first, the officer was praised for stopping a gunman after two people were shot outside a Footaction store on the second floor. Then they said Bradford was not in fact the gunman and that the true gunman remained on the loose.
Monday morning, the Police Department made another statement. “With certainty Mr. Bradford brandished a gun during the seconds following the gunshots,” the statement said, adding that his actions had “instantly heightened the sense of threat to approaching police officers responding to the chaotic scene.”
Later Monday, the department sought to explain its use of the word brandished, saying, “Mr. Bradford had a gun in his hand as police officers responded.” But police have not elaborated or explained why he was viewed as a threat.
The radically changing stories by authorities have left Bradford’s parents, April Pipkins and Emantic Bradford Sr., distraught and demanding answers. Bradford, 21, was licensed to carry a firearm, his family said.
Bradford’s death at the hands of law enforcement has also raised questions about the realities of the “good guy with a gun” theory advocated by the National Rifle Association and President Donald Trump as a solution to mass shootings. In a two-week period this month, Bradford and another man, both of whom are black, have been killed by police while their families said they were trying to stop a gunman.
On Nov. 11, a security guard, Jemel Roberson, was killed while on duty at a Chicago-area bar. He was chasing after a gunman when a police officer fatally shot him.
Benjamin L. Crump, a lawyer for Bradford’s family, said Bradford had one problem when the officer saw him holding a gun: He was black.
“It’s almost as if the Second Amendment doesn’t apply to black people,” Crump said in an interview Monday.