|Ariston Waiters (Photo courtesy of Waiters family)|
by Jesse Muhammad
A grand jury decided not to indict a Union City police officer involved in the controversial shooting death of Ariston Waiters. His family is countering with a civil lawsuit and the case has caught the attention of federal agencies.
“I was shocked by the grand jury’s decision because of all of the evidence,” said Freda Waiters, the victim’s mother. “I believe Ariston was racially profiled.”
Despite autopsy reports showing that 19-year-old Mr. Waiters was shot twice in the back, the grand jury determined on May 30 that police officer Luther Lewis, who is White, was justified in his actions.
“The facts are irrefutable that Ariston was unarmed, was not involved in the fight, and was an innocent bystander. There was no basis for him to be arrested,” said Mawali Davis, the family’s attorney.
On June 7, Mr. Davis filed a legal notice with Union City to inform them that a civil lawsuit is forthcoming against the city, the shooting officer and the entire police dept. “This mother didn’t even receive condolences from law enforcement,” he said.
Following a meeting with U.S. Attorney Sally Yates and Senator Vincent Fort, Mr. Davis said they received confirmation that the FBI will be assisting in a federal investigation.
Union City is located in Fulton County and approximately 20 miles south of Atlanta. According to the 2010 Census, the Union City population is 19,456. Nearly 70% are Black and 25% are White.
On December 14, 2011, Union City police squad cars were called to investigate a fight and shooting that was in process. Mr. Lewis was one of the officers on the scene. He reportedly got into a tussle with Mr. Waiters just before his gun went off.
Law enforcement officials stood by Mr. Lewis and said he acted in self-defense because Mr. Waiters allegedly reached for his gun during the encounter.
Mr. Davis and the family see it differently. “Ariston was leaving the area and goes into a backyard. The police officer Lewis pursued him. He performed no pat down or questioned Ariston. He demands at gunpoint for Ariston to lie down on the ground,” he said.
“He (Mr. Lewis) claimed that Ariston tried to take his gun, but Ariston had one handcuff on his left wrist. The officer’s weapon fired two shots into his back. A muzzle imprint was left on his back,” said Mr. Davis.
“One of Ariston’s friends called me and told me he had been shot by a police officer. While riding down the expressway to the hospital, I get another call that my son was dead. I was totally out of it,” said Ms. Waiters. Her son was also a father to a newborn daughter.
Another ‘Trayvon Martin-like’ scenario?
In light of her son’s death, Ms. Waiters can’t help but think about Trayvon Martin, who was killed in February by self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla.
Many have contended that Mr. Zimmerman, who is facing second degree murder charges, racially profiled Mr. Martin and unjustly pursued him because of his skin color and hoodie attire.
“The week before Ariston’s death, he had tattooed his forehead. That possibly could have been reason for this officer seeking my son out,” said Ms. Waiters. “Just like Trayvon, wearing a hoodie or a tattoo on your forehead should not be a basis for being unjustly gunned down.”
Mr. Davis believes Mr. Lewis’ pursuit of Mr. Waiters is “the same way Zimmerman moved in on Trayvon Martin. He creates a dangerous situation and then says “I had to shoot him.” Had he (Mr. Lewis) followed proper police protocol, he would have known Ariston was unarmed. Assumptions made this a dangerous situation.”
Over the last six months, multiple demonstrations have been heavily attended by the community.
Nation of Islam student Minister Sharrieff Muhammad has been assisting in getting the mother on radio shows and galvanizing clergymen in Atlanta to support the family.
“We cannot allow this to get swept under the rug. This case must have exposure. This is the same pattern of things being done to our people around the country and it is forcing us to unify like the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has warned. It’s going to take love and unity to bring our people together,” said Mr. Muhammad, who represents the Southern region of the NOI.
(For more information on the case of Ariston Waiters visit www.justiceforaristonwaiters.com)