IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Killing of black man by police shakes La. town

The killing  of 73-year-old Bernard Monroe at his Louisiana home is making far more noise than he ever did, and raising racial tensions between the black community and the police department.
Homer Police Shooting
Shaun Monroe holds a program from the funeral of his father Bernard Monroe at his father's house in Homer, La. Judi Bottoni / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

For 73 years before his killing by a white police officer, Bernard Monroe led a life in this northern Louisiana town as peaceful as they come — five kids with his wife of five decades, all raised in the same house, supported by the same job.

The black man's shooting death is attracting far more attention than he ever did, raising racial tensions between the black community and Homer's police department.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who helped organize a massive 2007 civil rights demonstration in Jena after six black teenagers were charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate, led a peaceful march Friday afternoon in Homer to protest the killing.

"No justice, no peace!" demonstrators chanted. "We shall overcome!"

About 150 demonstrators marched near the neighborhood where Monroe, a 73-year-old retired power company lineman, was gunned down by police last February outside his home during a family cookout.

'We came to the city to stop trouble'
The half-mile march ended at a park where Sharpton, a longtime civil rights activist, told an even larger crowd of almost 400 people that "to shoot an unarmed, innocent man and put him on trial is a disgrace."

"We didn't come to the city to start trouble. We came to the city to stop trouble," Sharpton told the crowd. "Let (police) explain why they broke the peace and took the life of this innocent man."

Some white Homer residents feared Sharpton's visit would deepen racial tension.

Linda Volentine, whose 1971 graduating class at Homer High School was the first to be fully integrated, said the town's race relations have had "ups and downs" in recent years.

"I'm hoping Rev. Sharpton can unite us again," said Volentine, who is white. "But if it's something that is supposed to drive a wedge, it will be harmful to the community, which we don't need."

Sharpton said afterward that he wants a thorough investigation of the killing. The FBI and state police are investigating.

"We're going to keep coming to Homer until we get justice," Sharpton said.

Rendered mute after losing his larynx to cancer, Monroe was in his usual spot on a mild Friday afternoon in February when events unfolded: A chair by the gate led to his Adams Street home. A barbecue cooker smoked beside a picnic table in the yard. A dozen or so family members talked and played nearby.

All seemed calm, until two Homer police officers drove up.

Conflicting accounts of events
In a report to state authorities, Homer police said Officer Tim Cox and another officer they have refused to identify chased Monroe's son, Shaun, 38, from a suspected drug deal blocks away to his father's house.

Witnesses dispute that account, saying the younger Monroe was talking to his sister-in-law in a truck in front of the house when the officers arrived.

All agree Shaun Monroe, who had an arrest record for assault and battery but no current warrants, drove up the driveway and went into the house. Two white police officers followed him. Within minutes, he ran back outside, followed by an unidentified officer who Tasered him in the front yard.

Seeing the commotion, Bernard Monroe confronted the officer. Police said that he advanced on them with a pistol and that Cox, who was still inside the house, shot at him through a screen door.

Monroe fell dead. How many shots were fired isn't clear; the coroner has refused to release an autopsy report, citing the active investigation.

Police allege he pointed a gun
Police said Monroe was shot after he pointed a gun at them, though no one claims Monroe fired shots. Friends and family said he was holding a bottle of sports water. They accuse police of planting a gun he owned next to his body.

"Mr. Ben didn't have a gun," said 32-year-old neighbor Marcus Frazier, who was there that day. "I saw that other officer pick up the gun from out of a chair on the porch and put it by him."

Frazier said Monroe was known to keep a gun for protection because of local drug activity.

Despite the chase and Tasering, Shaun Monroe was not arrested. He and other relatives would not comment afterward.

Monroe's gun is being DNA-tested by state police. The findings of their investigation will be given to District Attorney Jonathan Stewart, who would decide whether to file charges.

The case also has led to FBI and State Police investigations and drawn attention from national civil rights leaders.

'This thing has done a lot of damage'
"We've had a good relationship, blacks and whites, but this thing has done a lot of damage," said Michael Wade, one of three blacks on the five-member town council. "To shoot down a family man that had never done any harm, had no police record, caused no trouble. Suddenly everyone is looking around wondering why it happened and if race was the reason."

Homer, a town of 3,800 about 45 miles northwest of Shreveport, is in piney woods just south of the Arkansas state line. Many people work in the oil or timber industries. In the old downtown, shops line streets near the antebellum Claiborne Parish courthouse on the town square.

The easygoing climate, blacks say, masked police harassment.

The black community has focused its anger on Police Chief Russell Mills, who is white. They say he's directed a policy of harassment toward them.

The FBI and State Police said they received no complaints about Homer police before the shooting.

Mills declined interview requests, saying he retained a lawyer and feared losing his job.

More on: Race | Louisiana