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'We need change now': Family, politicians speak of Andre Hill's passion, call for justice

Bethany BrunerThe Columbus Dispatch

The Rev. Al Sharpton said Tuesday that he "salutes" the firing of Columbus police officer Adam Coy for fatally shooting an unarmed Andre Hill on Dec. 22 during a non-emergency disturbance call at a Northwest Side home.

" ... But I'm not satisfied with it," Sharpton told Hill's family, friends, politicians and other mourners during a memorial service at the First Church of God on Refugee Road.

"The firing of this policeman is a personnel decision. That is not a legal decision," Sharpton said. "If anyone in this church walked out of this church and unjustifiably, not in self-defense, killed somebody, we would not go to their job and get them fired. We would go to the court and get them prosecuted."

In remarks directed at Coy, Sharpton said, "You were employed, you were sworn in, you were given a badge and a gun to represent the state. You’re not no regular human being. You are hired to be your brother’s keeper — not your brother’s killer."

Sharpton also called out other officers at the scene who, like Coy, rendered no aid for several minutes as a dying 47-year-old Hill lay at the entrance to a garage on Oberlin Drive.

"Anybody who stood there with their body camera off and then began conjuring up an alibi, and let him lay there struggling and look to a man who’s on his way to the other side and say, 'He’s still breathing, cuff him' — all of you need to face the bar of justice.

Sharpton reminded the congregation that Rosa Parks made no excuses when she took a seat in the white section of a segregated bus decades ago. He chided black politicians and others in positions of power that there should be "no excuses" for allowing the fatal shootings of Black people by law enforcement to continue.

Sharpton was the last speaker at a memorial service that lasted close to two hours. The service also included eulogies by family, friends and politicians, and some singing.

Hill's eldest sister, Shawna Barnett, said Andre's name and the word funeral were two things she could not comprehend in the same sentence. She described her brother as someone who loved to joke and tell stories and who loved his family.

"We need change now," Barnett said of Hill's shooting death.

"He was my gentle giant. He was my rock," said his only child, daughter Karissa Hill. She said the loss of her father was so sudden she still expects to see him come home from work.

"This is a void in my heart that I will never get back," she said. She broke off her eulogy, saying she had a lot more to say, but just couldn't go on.

Family and friends made it clear, though, that Hill was a man who had passion. A passion for cooking, a passion for deep thinking and learning, chess games, fishing, telling jokes and being the life of the party.

But there was no greater passion than what Hill had for his family and those with whom he readily shared his love.

Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the Hill family, walked the congregation at Tuesday's memorial service through Hill's final moments. He said five minutes and 11 seconds after Hill was shot, he was handcuffed on the garage floor.

"As he lay struggling for life, the police offered him no medical assistance. Not any humanity," Crump said. "What was his crime?"

Crump said he and Hill's family are demanding justice, equality and the ability to have the rights that were described in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

"America, that means Black people, too. America, that means Andre Hill, too. That means Andre Hill’s life mattered," Crump said. "We will demand justice for Andre Maurice Hill. We will demand it now. We will demand it until we get justice."

Hill's friend, Tracy Smith, said the first thing he remembered most about Hill was his voice. He said he couldn't believe at the time that Hill was only 14.

Hill was not an arguer or fighter like Smith was, but rather a lover and a voice of reason, Smith said.

"He never got into a fight, he never argued with anyone. He was never disrespectful," Smith said. "I had the voice of reason and that was Andre Hill.

"Andre’s voice lives on," Smith continued. "Now it’s even louder than a bomb."

Before the service began, a slideshow of photographs played above Hill's open casket inside the sanctuary of the First Church of God. The photographs spanned Hill's entire life, including photographs of him with family, holding his grandchildren as newborns and even a photograph of a young Hill wearing a University of Michigan T-shirt.

"One of the strongest brothers on the block, one of the tallest trees in the forest, one of the finest men in this city," Bishop Timothy Clarke said. "This city is better because he lived among us. He shouldn’t have had to leave the way he left."

Rep. Joyce Beatty said she flew back to Columbus from Washington D.C., landing at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, in order to bring a message of hope and comfort to Hill's family as the newly elected chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

"He believed that all men and all women were created equal and should be treated equal," Beatty said. "His death will not merely be a rallying cry in protest. His death will not be in vain. His legacy will be upheld by all."

Beatty said the Congressional Black Caucus will open Wednesday's meeting with a prayer for Hill and will follow that with a push for an aggressive police reform agenda to end racial bias and excessive force in memory of Hill and others who came before him.

State Representative Erica Crawley and City Council President Shannon Hardin presented resolutions from their respective legislative bodies honoring Hill and his legacy.

"Cynicism is a rational emotion right now," Hardin said. "Being Black in America gives us cause to be cynical and we must say enough is enough. If we are our brother's keeper, we need, as a community, justice for Andre."

Both Hardin and Crawley said they support Andre's Law, a legislative effort in Ohio to hold law enforcement officers accountable for not using body cameras properly to ensure accountability, including potential criminal penalties if they are not turned on properly. Crawley committed to bringing the legislation to the Republican-controlled state General Assembly and working for its passage.

"We won’t turn a blind eye against these injustices," Hardin said.

Dayton-area attorney Michael Wright, who is assisting Crump in representing Hill's family, said he believes there is a "gamut" of charges that Coy could face. He said a grand jury should consider murder charges, but, as a backup, consider manslaughter, among other crimes.