200 march after Elmore's funeral

Pumping fists and chanting "no justice, no peace," about 200 people marched through Cherry Tree Crossing housing development Monday in a demonstration against police brutality, led by shotgun-toting members of the New Black Panthers Party's Augusta chapter.

The march went off peacefully, but when it ended at the site where 23-year-old Justin "Jed" Elmore's SUV crashed after he was shot by deputies last week, officers in riot gear were waiting by a package store across 15th Street. Sheriff Ronnie Strength said Cherry Tree residents called the department complaining about Panthers members carrying guns.

"This created a major problem there, but it was not caused by folks living there," the sheriff said. "We were not going to let anyone be over there with weapons."

The march followed Mr. Elmore's funeral Monday morning at Macedonia Baptist Church on Wrightsboro Road. Uniformed members of the New Black Panthers -- a militant black supremacist organization founded in Dallas in 1989 and not affiliated with the Black Panther Party that became well-known in the 1960s -- were on hand for that, too.

Augusta chapter Chairman Bobby Price said he wanted to give neighborhood residents a nonviolent outlet to vent against Mr. Elmore's Dec. 14 killing, which sparked civil unrest with residents hurling rocks, bottles and invectives at deputies.

Not wanting to spark another confrontation when police arrived, Mr. Price had his members put their guns away and, after an interview with a local television reporter, wrapped up the demonstration and left.

"I didn't want to create a situation that could escalate and get someone hurt," Mr. Price said.

One deputy on hand was filming the scene. Sheriff Strength said his office will try to identify the Panthers' members, and charges might be filed for disorderly conduct. The group didn't notify the sheriff's office of the demonstration beforehand or obtain permits, and the Augusta Housing Authority didn't want them on its property, he said.

"Somebody could have been hurt, whether they were legal over there or not," Sheriff Strength said.

Mr. Price said all seven of his members who were present have permits to carry guns. The New Black Panthers is a militant, self-defense group exercising its right to bear arms, he said.

"We didn't do anything that I'm aware of that was against the law," Mr. Price said.

Yusuf Shalid, a family friend of Mr. Elmore who'd spoken at his funeral earlier, watched the march disapprovingly. When it ended, he tried to talk members of the crowd into going home.

He told them the Panthers shouldn't be carrying guns through a neighborhood where children live, nor should marchers be walking around with cups of beer and drinking from bottles in paper bags.

"It's about dealing with things intelligently," Mr. Shalid implored the group, then, gesturing to the deputies across the street, "These folks here will gun you down."

At the funeral, the Rev. Al Sharpton, in town for the annual James Brown Christmas toy giveaway, said he stood by ministers' and politicians' calls for calm.

"But there must be an equal call for justice," he told more than 600 people packed into the church. "To call for peace without justice is just a call for quiet. We need real peace."

The Rev. Sharpton said outside the church that the shooting troubles him because the officers didn't appear to have been in life-threatening circumstances, and Mr. Elmore wasn't a violent criminal.

Deputies Michael Hodge and Jose Rivera Ortiz had stopped Mr. Elmore at Cherry Tree Crossing on a tip he had drugs and weapons in his SUV, and said Mr. Elmore tried to run them over after they'd boxed him in. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the case and has refused to release police car videos.

The Rev. Sharpton said the incident has similarities to the killing of Sean Bell, who in 2006 was shot on his wedding day in Queens, N.Y., by plainclothes and undercover New York City Police Department Officers.

"Don't expect us to sit quietly while they take target practice with our children," the Rev. Sharpton said at the funeral.

Macedonia Baptist Pastor Gregory M. Fuller's eulogy called for young blacks to use Mr. Elmore's death as an impetus to return to school, obtain GED certificates and "get rid of the welfare mentality.

"This really ain't no funeral," the Rev. Fuller said, standing over Mr. Elmore's silver-colored coffin surrounded by poinsettias, peace lilies and roses. "Maybe what this really is is the conception of something that's going to be birthed, something that's going to change the world."

Mr. Shalid alluded during the funeral to the big-hearted image of Mr. Elmore that has emerged since his death.

"I've seen Jed see young brothers on the street. The first thing he asked them was, 'Did you go to school today?' " Mr. Shalid said.

Then he would reach into his pocket to "make it better for them," he said.

"He touched so many people that it's amazing how society can attempt to define someone by something they have no knowledge of," Mr. Shalid said. "No man can be truly defined by one characteristic. The Bible says that a righteous man falls down several times. We all have been something else before we became who we are today."

Staff writers Adam Folk and LaTina Emerson contributed to this article.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

BACKGROUND:

On Dec. 14, Justin Leonard Elmore, a 23-year-old with an extensive criminal background who was on probation for drug convictions, was shot by Richmond County sheriff's deputies. The two deputies said Mr. Elmore tried to run one of them over when they had him penned in at the Cherry Tree Crossing public housing complex. As news of the shooting spread, rocks and bottles were thrown at deputies, fires were set in trash bins, and extra deputies were called in for security. The deputies involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave.

DEVELOPMENTS:

- On Dec. 15, Sheriff Ronnie Strength said the deputies appeared to be justified in the shooting, and the case was being investigated by the GBI.

- On Dec. 16, Mr. Elmore was taken off life support and died. Cherry Tree Crossing residents responded to the news by holding a candlelight vigil at the complex. A few people at the event threw rocks and bottles at deputies, and four were arrested. The same night, the GBI said it had video of the shooting but would not release it until the investigation is complete.

- On Thursday, city leaders met at Good Shepherd Baptist Church on Olive Road and called for calm. The GBI asked the FBI for assistance in its investigation.

- On Friday, the GBI said the SUV driven by Mr. Elmore was not stolen, as had been reported earlier.