While authorities investigate why a white man allegedly killed two African-Americans in a supermarket, mourners at a Thursday candlelight vigil expressed anger that the shooting has not been labeled what they believe it to be: A blatant hate crime.
Frustrated residents said it wasn’t Gregory Alan Bush’s reported mental illness that led him to allegedly shoot Maurice E. Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones at the Stony Brook Kroger in Jeffersontown.
“I wouldn’t call it a ‘possible’ motive,” said D. Johnson, who works up the street from the Kroger. “The only motive is it’s a hate crime.”
Later, Johnson rolled his eyes at the mention of reports that the suspect had a history of mental illness, specifically Schizoaffective disorder, detailed in court records obtained by the Courier Journal.
“You’ve got to stop using that excuse now,” he said. “That’s an excuse that they tend to use all the time.”
Law enforcement officials have been circumspect to assign a motive for the shootings, but U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth tweeted that he believes they are hate crimes:
“As federal officials continue to work with local and state law enforcement in the wake of this week’s senseless Kroger murders, I believe they can and should take into account the racist words and actions of the man behind this gruesome act and call it what it was: a hate crime,” the Louisville Democrat tweeted.
Jeffersontown’s Police Chief Sam Rogers had said in a news conference Thursday that he wouldn’t speculate on a motive for the shooting and deferred questions to the Federal Bureau of Investigations about whether the shooting was a hate crime.
U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman said Thursday in a statement the shootings were being investigated “from the perspective of federal criminal law, which includes potential civil rights violations such as hate crimes.”
“The murders are not being taken lightly by the United States government,” Coleman said.
The FBI defines a hate crime as a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by the perpetrator’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity. Hate crimes are federal offenses, and they’re often prosecuted in tandem with state crimes, such as murder.
Once the FBI completes a hate crime investigation, it forwards results to the local U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, which “decide whether a federal prosecution is warranted,” according to the bureau’s website.
On Wednesday afternoon, Bush, who is white, allegedly shot Stallard, a black man, while he shopped for poster board with his grandson at the Kroger. On the way out of the store, the CJ reported, Bush spotted Jones and allegedly fatally shot her. An onlooker who was armed told the CJ that Bush told him, “Don’t shoot me. I won’t shoot you. Whites don’t shoot whites.”
Bush was arrested not long after and faces two counts of murder and 10 counts of wanton endangerment.
At the press conference, Rogers revealed that approximately 10 to 15 minutes before Bush arrived at the Kroger, the suspect had attempted to enter the traditionally-black First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown.
The CJ reported that court records reveal Bush has had a history of mental health problems and violence, and once he used a racial slur.
Johnson sees consequences coming from law enforcement not calling the deaths of Stallard and Jones a hate crime immediately. The relationship between police and the community has to include an open line of communication, he said.
“It’s not open right now,” Johnson continued. “It hasn’t been open for a long time, and it won’t be open for a long time because they don’t want to address the truth.”
Chelsea Fleeks, another candle-holding participant at the vigil, has seen mental illness up close with a family member, she said, and she doesn’t believe it should be used to explain Stallard’s and Jones’ deaths.
“It’s insulting to the people that got mental illness,” she said. “I’ve seen it firsthand. I’ve seen a manic episode; I’ve seen a depressive episode. I have seen both ends of the spectrum, and it’s never ended in this.”
Bush, she said, deserves a harsh punishment.
Kevin Gunn, Jones’ nephew, who acted as a spokesperson for her family at the vigil, said that he was comforted by the community’s support, but that it hurt that Jones’ race had not been officially acknowledged as a motive for her slaying.
“Until we acknowledge that there is a problem, it won’t go away,” he said.
There were no grand speeches at Thursday’s vigil. Barely any talking. The grievers primarily showed their pain through plaintive song.
“I’m all churched out,” sang one woman. “Hurt and abused. I can’t think what’s left to do.”