October 23, 2018
Premiering Tuesday October 23, HBO Real Sports examines the police shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards. Jordan was both a scholar and an athlete. In the state of Texas where high school football is king, Jordan was a first-year football player at Mesquite High School in Balch Springs, Texas a suburb of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex with a population of just under 24,000 people.
“Make sure you take the time to think about how important he was to us,” head coach Jeff Fleener says to HBO’s David Scott as the segment begins. “It was just hard. There was kids cryin’ before the game. There was kids cryin’ after the game. There’s nothin’ in the head coaches’ manual that tells you how to handle these situations,” he said of kids trying to get through the first game following Jordan’s death.
But—as David Scott brings out—the tears were not only fueled by grief, but anger and fury as to how their friend died with a bullet in the back of his head, delivered by a policeman’s rifle.
Jordan wasn’t a troublemaker—everyone who knew Jordan knew this, and they had trouble digesting the police account that Jordan had somehow provoked this. “Why was he shooting a rifle? Why was he shootin’ at a car?’ Something didn’t add up when you heard the story,” said Coach Fleener.
Some of Jordan’s teammates took their protests to the sidelines following the example of Colin Kaepernick and other black NFL players who sought to call attention to the epidemic of police brutality against young black men in America. This was no longer abstract to them. This was their community, their team, and their friend. Dead. Dead from a policeman’s bullet.
One of the ironies in Jordan’s death was that his family had chosen to move to a predominantly white neighborhood to trade their inner city lives for a piece of the American Dream. Jordan’s mother, Charmaine works long days in the office of a trucking company and his father Odell drives long-haul nights for the same trucker. “Faith, football, and family.” The Edwards’ wanted their children to enjoy the good life, and it started well.
“Every time, it was time for him to go to practice. He’s ready to go,” said Odell Edwards, “He’d be waiting’ with his football gear on. Dad, I’m ready.”
“That first day I walked through the weight room. And he jumped off of the bench. ‘Hey, Coach, my name’s Jordan Edwards.’ A student, honor roll student. His teachers loved him. Principals loved him. Never in trouble,” Coach Fleener recalled.
Prior to that fateful night on April 29, 2017, when the Edwards boys attended a teen house party that was typically noisy, Jordan’s brother Kevon recalled that life had been “peaceful.”
Kevon, Vidal, and Jordan Edwards stopped to pick up a their friends, Maxwell and Maximus Everett, on their way to the party. Rhonda Washington, the twins’ mother said she got especially nervous whenever her boys crossed into Balch Springs where the house party was taking place. The town’s population was 80% black and Latino, but its police force remained 80% white. She recalled warning the boys to be on their best behavior because venturing to that part of town meant a police interaction was more likely than in their own neighborhood.
Odell Edwards had told the boys to be home by midnight, but around 11:00 p.m. a neighbor annoyed by the noise called the police. The Everett boys told HBO that there hadn’t been any drinking, drugs, or sex taking place at the party, and confirming this, police found only one beer can. When the police arrived, the Edwards boys were among the first kids to leave the house, as noted in this trailer for the Real Sports segment.
Police body cam and dash cam footage provides a snapshot into the final moments of Jordan Edwards’ life. As teens were leaving and everything seemed to be under control, shots were heard from a parking lot about 100 yards away. Vidal, Jordan’s brother was driving the car and attempted to flee the situation when Officers Roy Oliver and Tyler Gross focused their attention on their black Impala. The boys were terrified. “I seen the cop aiming his gun at the car,” Maxwell Everett said.
The next thing the boys heard was the sound of shots being fired. “I seen Jordan, like, leanin’ over. And it was, like, smoke coming from his head, ” Maximus Everett recalled.
The cruiser pulled up just behind the boys and Vidal, Jordan’s brother is heard on dash cam footage, “Sir, one of your officers shot my brother…He’s shot in the head. Sir, he’s bleeding, please help us!” Instead of providing assistance the officer called for back-up as Jordan lay bleeding and unresponsive. One by one the boys were removed from the car, handcuffed and processed as criminals despite the fact they were unarmed and had given no indication for police to believe otherwise.
Jordan’s family and friends share their stories of all that transpired next, as they tried to process what had taken place, and how their lives had, in an instant been changed forever.
Police are rarely held accountable for civilian killings, but in a rare sequitur Roy Oliver was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Watch as #RoyOliver jury delivers a 15 year sentence, $10K fine for the shooting death of unarmed teen #JordanEdwards pic.twitter.com/gIKMC0fwRA
— WFAA (@wfaa) August 30, 2018
While the sentence seems light (and it is) it’s more justice than most unarmed victims of police shootings have seen. Often the only consequence is as Colin Kaepernick said, “There are bodies in the street and cops are getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
According to the Washington Post, 788 people have been shot and killed by police to date in 2018; in 2017 there were 987 police shooting deaths, most of whom were black males. Over the last few years 47 young, unarmed black men have been fatally shot by police. Jordan’s death counts for one number in both these statistics. But, he was so much more than a number—he was an honor roll student, an athlete and teammate, a brother, a son, and a friend. Those who loved him were robbed of their joy. Those of us who never had a chance to know him have been robbed of all he stood to accomplish and contribute to his world had he been permitted to live.
Sheilla Dingus founded Advocacy for Fairness in Sports in October 2016, after a stint with Defenders of the Wall, a New England Patriots based blog where she dived deep into the legal aspects of Deflategate. Along the way, she observed many inequities in sports and felt a need to address some of the under-reported stories in sports law. She draws from her background as a former professional dancer, who like many of the athletes she writes about, took an early retirement due to orthopedic injuries. After a return trip to college she worked for a legal software company, with seven years as a Project Manager and Analyst. She brings her analytical skills to the table in breaking down complex lawsuits, and enjoys pursuing her longtime interest in journalism.