NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An aunt and the grandmother of a Black man who was shot by police in Louisiana arrived on the scene by chance, as they drove home from a day out.
Choicey Pellerin, Trayford Pellerin’s aunt, said that she and her mother saw lots of blue lights and police Friday night. Just as her mother said there must have been a bad wreck, her mother’s phone rang.
“It was her brother on the phone, saying her grandson had just been shot,” Choicey Pellerin recounted Sunday during an Associated Press interview. She said her 31-year-old nephew had called twice that day, saying, “Grandma, I love you.”
Police have said Pellerin was carrying a knife and was shot when he tried to enter one convenience store in Lafayette after causing a disturbance at another.
“We understand it was a call for loitering,” said civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the family with attorney Ron Haley of Baton Rouge.
Crump and Haley, who joined Trayford Pellerin’s aunt and mother on the conference call interview, said that less than three weeks earlier, Lafayette police simply arrested a white man who had a knife and had led a car chase. Police said Donald Guidry, 42, of Rayne, had told officers he was armed and might harm himself, but was talked into surrendering without incident, according to several news reports.
“There are two justice systems in America. One for Black Americans and one for white Americans,” Crump said. “Until we address this we will continue to see more hashtags” about Black people killed by police, he said.
The bullet holes near the spot where Pellerin was killed belie police statements that they were trying to protect people inside, Haley said.
“That store’s side is riddled with bullets,” showing “callous disregard for the safety of the people in the store,” he said.
Community activists demanded racial justice and called for Mayor-President Josh Guillory to resign at an evening rally Sunday. A day earlier, a peaceful rally was followed by fires set on a highway median.
Community activist Jamal Taylor told Sunday’s crowd outside City Hall that Michelle Pellerin told him she wanted her son’s memory respected with peaceful protests.
“No rioting, no burning buildings, no damage to vehicles, no assaulting of people,” he said during the rally livestreamed on his Facebook page.The video showed what appeared to be 100 to 200 people, black and white.
The sound of the shots and comments by young women who saw the shooting were captured on video. The state ACLU condemned what it described as a “horrific and deadly incident of police violence against a Black person.” Both the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center quickly called for an investigation.
Saturday afternoon’s protest started peacefully, but violence broke out as night fell — leading to officers clearing the crowd with smoke canisters, Trooper Derek Senegal said Saturday.
Local activists blamed outside agitators for the violence, which they said broke out after the local protest ended Saturday. Taylor told The AP before Sunday’s rally that he did not recognize people shown in videos setting fires.
Attorney Shytishia “Sam” Flugence said she talked to the daytime protesters about the civil rights era’s legacy of nonviolent protests, and “it seemed to resonate with them.”
At the Shell station where Pellerin was killed and where the daylight protest disbanded, “there was an influx of people who were not with the original protesters,” she said.
Officials said fireworks had been shot at buildings and fires set in the median of a road where demonstrations had taken place.
“Our intent is not going to be to just let people disrupt our town and put our citizens and our motorists and our neighborhoods in danger,” Interim Police Chief Scott Morgan said.
Arrests were made, Morgan said, but an exact number wasn’t immediately available.
A city police spokesman did not return a call Sunday inquiring about the arrests.
The activists attempted to attend the news conference but were “escorted out” because Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory said it was private, Lafayette NAACP President Marja Broussard said.
Taylor said an earlier decision to close parks and recreation centers — most of them in Black neighborhoods — and Guillory’s statement about Pellerin’s death indicate “a person disconnected from the plight of the Black man, from the person of color who is fighting to be equal and have his life valued the same as a white person’s life is valued,” he said.
The activists also expressed discontent that leaders did not offer condolences to Pellerin’s family at the news conference.
“Josh Guillory is lower than a dog for that,” Taylor said Saturday.
Tensions surrounding the fatal shooting follow a global reckoning over police tactics and racial injustice that stem from the death of George Floyd on May 25 under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.
The family believes Pellerin may have been having a mental health crisis, Crump said.
Michelle Pellerin said her son had told her in March that he was seeking therapy for social anxiety so serious that it kept him from holding jobs for long.
Lafayette police asked state police to investigate — standard procedure in the state for shootings by local officers.
The incident was the third shooting by Lafayette police since mid-July. State police said a man was critically wounded last month after being shot during an altercation with police. Another man was in stable condition after being shot during a burglary investigation earlier this month.