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How protests raised awareness to the James Scurlock case

Did chanting "Justice for James" make an impact?
Posted at 12:06 AM, Sep 18, 2020

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, protests erupted across the United States.

Those tensions hit closer to home when James Scurlock, a 22-year-old Black man, was killed by Omaha bar owner Jacob Gardner.

Many people are left wondering what kind of lasting impact these demonstrations will make.

Scurlock family attorney Justin Wayne says unrest in Omaha played a role in this case.

"I think awareness, community awareness, community engagement is always helpful in changing any system,” Wayne said.

For months, “Justice for James” has been chanted in the streets of Omaha, continuing to bring attention to the decisions in this case.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine declined to bring charges against Gardner, saying he acted in self-defense.

Yet, people kept chanting.

“There is no way in 36 hours you could go through all that material in the middle of a riot, in the middle of mass confusion,” Wayne said. “There was just no way for there to be a full, fair, complete investigation."

Wayne adds this constant awareness was instrumental in why they were able to call on a grand jury, or as he describes - another pair of eyes.

Gardner was later charged with manslaughter, the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, attempted first degree assault and terroristic threats.

The grand jury’s decision came as a shock to Community Organizer Markell Riley.

“The system has time and time again failed it's Black and Brown people,” Riley said. “We just fully expected them to fail James.”

Riley adds peaceful protests have sparked a conversation about inequality.

“People didn't love the language we were speaking, but they heard it and change was made at a result of it,” Riley said.

Wayne, again, reiterates if the threat of the petition was not made by the many voices in the streets, a grand jury would not have been invoked.

He adds people no longer are willing to accept the status quo.

“It is a defining moment for Omaha and this state because you cannot ignore the tale of two cities,” Wayne said.

The Scurlock family has asked for these protests to remain peaceful.

According to Omaha Police Department and Douglas County Department of Corrections, Jacob Gardner has not been arrested as of 10 p.m. on the night of September 17 - more than 48 hours after being indicted by a grand jury.

We reached out to Gardner’s Attorney Stu Dornan, and Special Prosecutor Fred Franklin for comment, but they did not return our calls.