Jordan Edwards' killing fuels town's grief -- and a call for justice

texas teen shot dead by police _00003910
texas teen shot dead by police _00003910

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  • Funeral scheduled for Saturday
  • Police officer charged with murder

Balch Springs, Texas (CNN)On the first day back to school since 15-year-old Jordan Edwards was killed by a police officer, more than 100 of his football teammates prayed and cried with the boy's family in a Dallas suburb.

One by one, the players hugged his relatives and scribbled messages on a memorial taped to Jordan's locker: "RIP lil bro." "Rest Easy my boy."
"It was a lot of sadness, ... just because of how close everybody felt like they were to Jordan," said Jeff Fleener, head football coach at Mesquite High School, where Jordan was a freshman.
    Emotions have ranged from grief to shock -- and frustration to determination -- since police in Balch Springs said an officer fired into a car as it was driving away from a party, killing Jordan, an unarmed black teenager in the front passenger seat.
    Jordan's funeral is scheduled for Saturday.
    Former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver was charged Friday with murder, authorities said.
    The Edwards family and others praised police Chief Jonathan Haber's swift firing of the officer on Tuesday -- a day after Haber said he "misspoke" when he said the car Jordan was in was moving "aggressively" toward police, leading the officer to shoot. Haber then also called for criminal charges.
    Others drew parallels to the actions of officers that have resulted in the deaths of other black boys and men across the country, raising what they say is a need to reform how police interact with black and Latino communities.
    "It surprises me that situations like this are still happening, but it doesn't surprise me that the officer got fired but somehow hasn't been arrested," Everett Young, 45, who owns a barbershop near Mesquite High School, told CNN on Wednesday. Oliver was booked Friday and released with a $300,000 bond.
    Young said he believes the police are necessary, but he would want to see them undergo psychological evaluations on a regular basis.
    "They need to understand that when they get in a hot situation and kill somebody, they just killed someone's son, brother, grandson."
    Some residents said they haven't protested the killing because they believe it would distract from the quest for justice. The Edwards family has asked people to refrain from protesting at this time as they cope with Jordan's death and prepare for his funeral.
    "We are a tight-knit community here. We don't want a protest because we want justice," said Sarah Evans, a Balch Springs resident whose children played in the same peewee football league with Jordan.
    Added Evans: "But if the officer is cleared, the community will stand up and rally. And we will be a part of it."
    The Dallas County Sheriff's Department and the Dallas County District Attorney's Office have opened criminal investigations into the shooting.
    The team plans to keep Jordan's locker intact and possibly design a helmet decal with his freshman number -- No. 11 -- to honor the Mesquite High School freshman

    'There could have been neighbors outside smoking'

    Jordan, along with his two brothers and two friends, were in the car when it was fired upon last Saturday. Jordan died from a fatal gunshot wound to the head, the Dallas County Medical Examiner's Office said. His death has been ruled a homicide.
    Candace Gonzalez, a home health company employee who lives three blocks from the shooting, recalled hearing what sounded like multiple gunshots that night.
    "What I want to know is what that officer saw that made him pull out a rifle? There could have been neighbors outside smoking," she said.
    Police said officers discovered a large party when they responded to a 911 call reporting underage, intoxicated teenagers walking around. They allegedly heard gunshots outside as they tried to find the homeowner in the residence.
    Balch Springs Police Officer Roy Oliver, who authorities said shot into a car Saturday, killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, was fired on Tuesday.
    Another neighbor, Willie Williams, who said he also heard what sounded like gunshots that night, said the killing is all neighbors can talk about.
    "You never know with these police, just because they put on a uniform doesn't mean they want to serve you," he said, adding that he wondered why Oliver wasn't arrested right after he was fired.
    Haber had said the body cam footage showed the car was driving away from officers, not reversing toward them.

    'Proud of what the chief did'

    At a news conference Tuesday announcing Oliver's firing, the Rev. Ronald Wright credited Haber with "setting what should be considered a litmus test" for dealing with similar police shootings.
    Teammates paid tribute to Jordan at his locker.
    Wright, executive director of Justice Seekers Texas, a civil rights and social justice organization, cautioned the public not to judge other Balch Springs officers by Oliver's alleged actions.
    In an interview Wednesday, Wright said he believes the reaction in Balch Springs and Dallas to the firing has been generally positive.
    "A lot of them are proud of what the chief did because the average police department wouldn't have done it," he said.
    The Balch Springs police have forged a better relationship with the community in recent years, Wright said, citing a community liaison who works with churches and youth.
    In the past, officers would often stop and question black residents, he said. Balch Springs is 45% Hispanic or Latino and 24% African-American, US Census figures show.

    'People are wary right now'

    Others, though, aren't so optimistic.
    The shooting has caused fear and confusion among young adults, said Traelon Rodgers, the Dallas NAACP Youth Council president.
    They're "afraid of the powers that be, ... confused that their lives may be next, and confused as to what causes this and what triggers the violence," Traelon, 17, said Tuesday after a local NAACP meeting.
    "People are wary right now," Pastor Marcus D. King of Disciple Center Community Church in DeSoto, said.
    "It's a lack of trust that something will actually be handled and true justice will take place," he said. "People are asking, 'Why should I continue to raise my voice? Because I'm going to be hoarse after a while because nobody is listening.'"

    Officer's firing 'does not bring justice'

    Oliver was fired on the same day former North Charleston officer Michael Slager admitted using excessive force in the 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man in North Charleston, South Carolina. Slager, who is white, shot Scott in the back as he was running away from Slager after a traffic stop.
    In a reversal from his earlier account, Slager admitted in court he did not shoot Scott in self-defense and said his use of force was unreasonable.
    The Justice Department on Wednesday declined to file civil rights charges against the two officers involved in the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in July 2016.
    But officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, who are white, could still face state criminal charges.
    The ACLU of Texas referenced the South Carolina and Louisiana cases in a statement about Edwards.
    "How many black men have to die before law enforcement changes its culture and regains the trust of the communities it's sworn to serve?" Terri Burke, the executive director, said.
    Oliver's firing is only the first step in getting justice, said Aubrey Christopher Hooper, president of the Dallas NAACP branch.
    "But the larger question that the community is now awaiting is, how is this officer going to be held accountable?" he said. "(Oliver) being fired does not bring justice to the death of this innocent young man."