Arkansas woman pulls gun on black teens
In a photo provided by the Cross County Sheriff's Office: Jerri Kelly, who was arrested after officials say she pulled a gun on four black teenagers fundraising door-to-door for their high school football team, in Cross County, Arkansas, Aug. 15, 2019. Kelly, 46, is facing charges of aggravated assault and false imprisonment. (Cross County Sheriff's Office via The New York Times) Image Credit: NYT

Four black high school students were going door-to-door to raise money for their football team in Wynne, Arkansas, on the morning of August 7.

One moment, they were laughing, having been frightened by a dog chasing them that had only wanted to play. The next, they were on the ground in a stranger's front yard with their hands behind their backs while a white woman with a handgun ordered them to stay put.

The woman, who lived at the property, had already called her husband, a county jail administrator, who alerted the police. "Upon arrival of our officers, four juveniles were found lying on the ground with a female adult with a gun standing," Jackie Clark, the Wynne police chief, said in a statement. "Our officer had the children stand up and they explained they were selling discount cards for a school athletic program."

The woman, identified by the authorities as Jerri Kelly, 46, is now facing felony charges of aggravated assault and false imprisonment. She was arrested and released on $10,000 bond Monday, according to the Cross County Sheriff's Office. She could not be reached for comment Friday.

The episode is similar to other recent cases of white people threatening or calling the police on black people for minor or nonexistent transgressions, such as knocking on a door for directions, taking a nap in a Yale common room or asking to use the restroom in a Starbucks without buying anything.

The teenagers were not named by authorities, but all were between the ages of 15 and 16. Carl Easley, the superintendent of the Wynne School District, said he had spoken with some of the students' relatives. "They're upset that it happened," he said. "Two of the boys lived within two blocks of where that happened."

According to the superintendent's office, about 70 per cent of Wynne High School students are white, and 28 per cent are black.

What exactly happened?

Police reports painted a detailed picture of the encounter on August 7.

The boys had been selling discount cards at $20 each to raise money for their team at Wynne High School, the Yellowjackets. In statements to police, all four boys mentioned a dog that had chased them on the street that morning. Some of them had taken shelter in the back of a truck, they said, until the dog's owner assured them that the dog was friendly.

"We jumped from the truck and pet the dog," one of the teenagers wrote in his statement. "After me and my friends got done laughing at the situation, we walked up to the house."

But before they could knock, Kelly came out with a gun in her hand.

In her statement, she said she had seen the teenagers approaching and thought they looked suspicious because they did not appear to be selling anything. "All males were African American," she added. "And I know this residence to be white."

She had already noticed that a dog "ran them off" from another home. She said the teenagers did not appear to be knocking on many doors. And she noted that she had been the victim of a home invasion before.

As the boys approached, she grabbed her gun, she wrote. Then she opened her door and asked what they were doing, eventually telling them to get on the ground. "I drew my weapon without my finger on the trigger as I have been previously trained to do," she wrote.

One of the boys wrote in his statement that during the encounter, he had moved his hand to swat a mosquito. "She told me to stop moving or she will shoot me," he added.

Another wrote that he had tried to show her the discount cards and had pointed out that two of the boys were wearing their team jerseys. "But as I was saying it, she told us to look down, so I was scared to even talk to her," he added.

The boys were still on the ground when a police officer arrived. According to the officer's report, he recognized the boys because he had worked as a resource officer at the high school, and he told Kelly that they were trying to raise money for the team.

Then, the officer's report said, Kelly addressed the teenagers and appeared to gesture to the difference between her and the boys' skin color before saying: "It ain't about that." She went on to explain that her actions were about "suspicious activity," and she advised them to "act like you're selling cards." She added that she had worked in law enforcement for seven years.

"Be smart about it boys," she said, according to the report. "Please. It's your life you're talking about. Don't be silly about it."

Later that day, the officer added, Kelly told him she wanted to "put some closure on this" by reaching out to the boys and buying them lunch.

Easley, the superintendent, acknowledged Friday that the episode had gained national attention.

"We don't want the impression that we have racist people walking around pulling guns on black kids," he said. "Everybody in the community, regardless of race, is upset that this has happened to any kids."

One student's grandmother told WREG News Channel 3 that her grandson still saw the woman's gun when he closed his eyes. "It is hard for him to get over it," she added.

In his statement, one of the teenagers wrote that after the officers had arrived and told them all to stand up, they had tried to walk away from the woman.

"She told us to come back and look at her in her eyes and told her to let that be a lesson and told us to shake her hand," he wrote.