While I don’t know who shot Emantic Bradford Jr., I can tell you that his killer works for me. Every time I go to buy groceries, I pay his salary. My property taxes paid for the bullets he fired.
And everyone knew it was going to happen.
When a Hoover, Ala., police officer shot 21-year-old E.J. Bradford in the face on Thursday, the Hoover police department told the world that an officer was forced to neutralize an active shooter. Then they recanted, saying Bradford wasn’t an active shooter, but he had “brandished” a pistol, forcing the still-unnamed officer to respond by killing him.
Despite what the news reports would have you believe, the ensuing anger, protests and calls for justice are tempered by another pervasive sentiment. Sure, the black residents in the surrounding areas are upset by the story of police officers killing an innocent black man. But they are not shocked. Almost to a man, each one of them would tell you that they knew this would happen, and so would I.
Sometimes it snows in April. Sometimes it rains while the sky is clear. But for black people, the weather in Hoover has always been cold and cloudy. I am not a soothsayer and Birmingham’s residents are not prophets. But we all saw this coming. Even those who are angry are not surprised because, while the death of Emantic Bradford is a tragedy, it was also inevitable.
I am a nine-year resident of Hoover, Alabama and I always knew:
This had to happen.
Please pardon us.
Even though I should be writing something new about Hoover, Ala., in the post-Thanksgiving spirit, The Root is serving leftovers, so pardon me if you’ve read this before.
Maybe you read about it in in 2017 when The Root wrote about the Ku Klux Klan distributing flyers in Hoover that said: “A jury has acquitted Negro Charleston Wells of murder in the 2016 shooting death of White Hoover resident Mike Gilotti, a veteran and father of two. You better wake up whitey!”
Or maybe it was when we wrote about the Hoover High School teacher who admitted she told a student to “turn the nigger tunes off” when the teenager played Tupac in class. Perhaps it was our story about the apathy of Hoover City Schools after a Spain Park High School parent said: “Their kind doesn’t belong on the field” during a football game against a majority black high school. Maybe it was when we discovered a video of a student at the same school proclaiming: “God I love the word nigger!”
Hoover is racist.
Although I didn’t know much about the suburb when I moved here (when the real estate agent showed me the house, I assumed the purple and gold basement was a sign from the Que gods), no one in Hoover has ever said the word “nigger” within earshot of me. In nine years, I’ve had five police encounters that have all been positive. I live in a neighborhood straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting with neighbors who are so friendly I sometimes wonder if they’re Russian spies or “the feds.” I’ve been invited into their churches, participated in civic groups and volunteered for community activities.
But the racism in Hoover isn’t about the n-word or Tupac songs. The city is a testament to how a half-century of pervasive institutional white supremacy can infect a city’s bloodstream. It is both subtle and blatant. It is invisible but everyone can see it.
The city was founded and named after real estate magnate William Hoover in 1967, who was a member of the neo-Nazi National State’s Rights Party and had ties to Alabama’s White Citizens Council. Hoover’s white majority is largely a result of desegregation. After integration, whites fled Birmingham, Ala., and moved to the suburbs, creating lily-white enclaves like Hoover.
In 1950, Birmingham was only 37 percent black. Now, Birmingham is the third-blackest city in America by percentage of the population (72 percent black). By contrast, Hoover is 72 percent white and only 17 percent of its residents are black. It is located partly in Shelby County, whose residents are the richest and the most educated in the state. The racial and economic disparities between Hoover and Birmingham caused 24/7 Wall Street to rank the area as the 9th most segregated metropolitan area in America.
Hoover City Schools still operate under a court order from 1965 after a federal judge found, in Stout v. Jefferson County Board of Education, that Jefferson County was operating two schools systems: one for white students and one for black students. Hoover City eventually separated itself from Jefferson County and created a whiter, richer school district. The resulting school district has made numerous efforts to preserve its white majority.
A recent review of Hoover City Schools found that Hoover High School’s black students were six times more likely than white students to be given an out-of-school suspension. In two elementary schools in the district, black students were five times more likely than white students to be given an out-of-school suspension. And at Bluff Park Elementary School, black students were 11 times more likely than white students to be given an out-of-school suspension.
In 2015, I covered a story about how the district sought to cease its system of using school buses. Although the effort was painted as a money-saving measure, many activists I spoke with said it was part of a plan to eliminate “apartment-dwellers,”—poor and minority students who move to an affluent suburb to attend good schools.
The calculus was simple: If you weren’t a stay at home parent or a parent whose job allowed for you to drop your child at school (read “white”), the lack of buses would dissuade you from moving to the area. The project was averted only when Barack Obama’s Department of Justice forced the district to abandon its plan.
In 2016, when the city rejected a plan that would zone the city’s land for apartment buildings, city leaders said their opposition was about the “best use” of the land. But the Birmingham News’ Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Archibald called it what it was:
We want to keep the riff raff out.
Or as William Hoover would have said ...
Hoover people have to get together and send those other people back to Birmingham.
It has been a constant refrain in Hoover for more than a decade now. Hoover school superintendents since the turn of the century have talked of the “apartment problem,” hinting that Hispanic and black people in those units dumbed down test scores at schools and threatened the city’s excellence. Or exclusivity.
Call it the Hoover Man’s Burden.
Hoover is part of Alabama’s 16th Congressional district and is represented by an 80-year-old powerbroker who has served in the Alabama Legislature since 1963. He is generally considered one of the most powerful politicians in the state, partly because he comes from a family of powerful men.
If you have ever seen the black-and-white footage of civil rights violence in Birmingham during the 1960s, you probably recognize the name of Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor as the man who sicced dogs on marchers, sprayed black children with fire hoses and beat nonviolent protesters with batons. While Connor was the face of segregation in Birmingham, the city was run by three men: Connor, Mayor Art Hanes and Public Works Commissioner J. T. Waggoner—father of Hoover’s state senator J.T. “Jabo” Waggoner.
But while the city fights to keep its schools and neighborhoods white, it enjoys some of the fruits of blackness. Hoover High School has won 10 of the last 15 state championships in football, a religion in Alabama. And black dollars is what it values most.
The crown jewel of Hoover’s economic landscape is the Riverchase Galleria Mall, one of the 50 largest malls in the U.S., according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Even before the Thanksgiving shooting, many Hoover residents resented the presence of Birmingham’s black youth in their suburban utopia.
Furthermore, black people in Birmingham knew that Hoover’s police department had a reputation of stopping and pulling over black people driving through the city.
If you are black and live in the Birmingham area, you have likely heard about Hoover’s police. You’ve probably been told that you should be careful when you’re in Hoover. You probably expected this to happen.
Or maybe this isn’t about race at all.
Perhaps the death of Emantic Bradford isn’t about race. Maybe it’s about police training, because some people have asserted that the police officer who shot Bradford might have been wrong, but not necessarily racist. So this might not have anything to do with the implicit bias of seeing a black man with a gun.
Maybe those people should know that, in 2014, Hoover police officers received special training from the FBI and Homeland Security on what to do in an active shooter terrorist situation.
But it probably wasn’t applicable to this specific situation. After all, there’s no way they could know how to react to such a unique circumstance, even though the training was called the “Complex Mall Attack.” It’s impossible to know what the officer was thinking, even though the HPD held the training in a very specific location:
The Riverchase Galleria Mall.
This was always going to happen in Hoover.
No, the police officer probably didn’t hate black skin. But he was hired to protect Hoover’s citizens from Birmingham’s riff-raff. The schools do it. The legislature does it. The city leaders do it. Why wouldn’t we expect the police department to do the same thing?
Which begs the question that will probably be continuously asked. I am often asked this question.
If Hoover is so racist, why would I choose to live there? If the city of Hoover, the police department and its institutions are so anti-black, why would any black person ever go there? The answer, for Emantic Bradford Jr., is probably the same as mine.
Hoover is neither unique or scary. It’s a lot like another place where I’ve lived and where Emantic Bradford Jr. has undoubtedly shopped.
It’s called America.