When Alvin Motley Jr. and his girlfriend, Pia Foster, rolled up to the Kroger Fuel Station at the Germantown and East Memphis line with their music blasting, they had no clue that, in the eyes of Gregory Livingston, they were committing a capital offense.
Then again, to white people like Livingston – people armed with guns, stereotypes and indifference - Black people like Motley justify execution simply by existing.
And that must stop.
According to a police affidavit, on Aug. 7 Livingston, who was working as a security guard at the station, confronted Motley about the loudness of his car stereo.
A booming car stereo may be a temporary annoyance, but it doesn’t come close to being a security threat.
Or, at least not one that calls for executing the perpetrator.
Foster told police that Motley, who wanted to discuss the issue further with Livingston, walked toward him and said, “let’s talk like men.”
To which Livingston should have said, "OK, let’s talk, but I need you to extinguish the lit cigarette in your hand first.”
That was the real security threat at the gas station, not Motley’s music.
But, apparently, Livingston didn’t see the cigarette, nor did he see Motley as a man or, for that matter, even human.
So, as surveillance cameras apparently showed, he shot Motley. Dead.
For seeking a conversation to settle a confrontation. For expecting humanity, not hot lead.
Livingston has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder. Motley’s family has summoned famed civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump to help them pursue a civil settlement with Kroger and the third-party security firm that hired Livingston, and criminal justice from a special prosecutor who will apparently handle the case.
District Attorney Amy Weirich recused herself because, apparently, an investigator in her office works as an off-duty security officer and may be called as a witness in the case.
Crump and his law firm have secured civil settlements in the fatal shootings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Trayvon Martin and others who were either killed by the police or by someone who believed whatever cover of authority they were acting under gave them the right to kill an unarmed Black person.
Motley is the latest Black person to join that club. And that angers and saddens Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner Jr.
“I am disgusted by it, because one is too many, and to see this still occurring is just heart wrenching,” said Turner, who is also a lawyer and president of the local chapter of the NAACP.
“…It was Alvin Motley Jr. this time, but it could be your son, your daughter, your nephew, niece, uncle, brother or father the next time. This was just so random, over loud music…he just shot this guy in the chest, in cold blood…
“As the father of two boys, one 16 and one 14, and one who’s just starting to learn how to drive, you really don’t want your kids to go out. It’s gotten to the point now where individuals are becoming unhinged, and the [Tennessee] Legislature is allowing more guns to be given to individuals more easily [through the permitless carry law]”
“It’s a recipe for disaster, and we’re headed in the wrong direction.”
What’s also a disaster is the fact that no one seems to know, or no one wants to tell, who really hired and employed Livingston.
My colleague, Daniel Connolly, reports that Kroger contracted with worldwide firm Allied Universal, to provide security at the Kroger station where Livingston worked. Allied, in turn, contracted that job out to a third party – whom it won’t name.
That third party apparently hired Livingston, a retired Horn Lake, Mississippi, police officer who was unlicensed to work as a security guard in Tennessee – and whose applications for a license were turned down on two occasions.
All of which says that if Kroger is going to use security guards who carry weapons that can kill someone, it should consider hiring them directly. It seems all that subcontracting can lead to too much corner-cutting when it comes to vetting security guards.
That includes security guards like Livingston. One who was apparently not only armed, but unhinged.
Yet even if Livingston is convicted of Motley’s murder, and even if Motley’s family receives a decent civil settlement from whatever party is deemed to be liable for his death, it’s infuriating that these tragedies, which stem from racial profiling, continue.
Motley’s slaying, after all, occurred at the hands of a wannabe enforcer nine years after pseudo-security guard George Zimmerman shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin dead in Sanford, Florida, because he was wearing a hoodie and looked suspicious, and eight years after Michael Dunn shot 17-year-old Jordan Davis over loud music in Jacksonville, Florida.
Motley, Trayvon and Jordan are dead because for too long, it’s been easier for men like Livingston, Zimmerman and Dunn to see Black men and boys like them as a threat for doing non-threatening things that white people do; things like wearing hoodies, blasting music and talking back - in Black skin.
“They offer all these technical reasons, like the music was too loud and everything, but it goes to this notion that they profile Black men and they shoot first, and then they try to make the Black man, or the Black boy, in Trayvon and Jordan’s case, seem like they were some sort of savage, and they had to do it [shoot them],” Crump said.
“Like with Trayvon, we know it wasn’t the hoodie. With Jordan Davis and with Alvin Motley it wasn’t the loud music. It was just this notion that these white men thought they had a right to impose their will on these Black men, and when they didn’t comply, they took matters into their own hands and killed them.”
Crump said that one reason the video of the shooting is so important is that it shows Motley trying to have a conversation with Livingston.
“All he said was, ‘Can we talk about this like men?’” Crump said. “But the security guard didn’t want to handle him [Motley] like a man who was deserving of respect but wanted to shoot him down like a dog in the streets.
“We can’t let another Black man get killed over an allegation of loud music.”
Or have people working as security guards who think that the only way to stop a Black person like Motley from playing music they don't like, or approaching them about a conversation they don't want to have, is by executing them.
Tonyaa Weathersbee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow her on Twitter: @tonyaajw