Death of Raleigh man likened to Trayvon Martin case
Posted August 11
Raleigh, N.C. — Calling a white Raleigh homeowner who killed a black man outside his home over the weekend "George Zimmerman 2.0," a lawyer for the dead man's family said Thursday that the case is strikingly similar to the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin aside from the fact that there was no face-to-face confrontation in this case.
Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas, 20, was killed outside 3536 Single Leaf Lane early Sunday. Homeowner Chad Cameron Copley, 39, has been charged with first-degree murder in the case and remains in the Wake County jail without bond.
"Something has to change," attorney Justin Bamberg said at a news conference outside Thomas' home. "We have a problem in society, and that problem is people not understanding and appreciating the value of a human life."
Copley called 911 shortly before 1 a.m. Sunday to complain about armed "hoodlums" racing and vandalizing his neighborhood and telling police he was ready to take action.
"I'm locked and loaded, and I'm going to secure the neighborhood," he told a dispatcher.
Investigators said Copley fired a shotgun through a window from inside his garage, striking Thomas, who was outside.
Copley said he was "on neighborhood watch," a statement disputed by other residents of the Neuse Crossing community, who said the area doesn't have an organized neighborhood watch.
Bamberg likened Copley's attitude and actions to those of Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch member who confronted Martin as the black 17-year-old walked through his Florida neighborhood and shot and killed the teen. He was later acquitted of murder in the case.
"While we want people to protect their neighborhoods and protect their homes, what we don't want are vigilante homeowners who try to play police, judge, jury and executioner," Bamberg said. "We cannot have that, and it stops, if we have anything to do with it, today."
After the shooting, Copley's wife called 911, and he told a dispatcher that he was "trying to protect myself and my family" because the people outside had firearms.
Thomas was unarmed, Bamberg said, and there was no evidence that anyone else outside – a number of people were at a house party in the neighborhood – had a weapon.
North Carolina's "castle doctrine," which give people the right to use deadly force to defend their home, vehicle or workplace from an imminent threat, doesn't apply, Bamberg said, because Copley was safe inside his home and Thomas wasn't even on Copley's property when he was shot.
"Protect your home. Protect your family. That's your right," Bamberg said. "But you need to know what you can and can't do, and what you can't do is shoot at innocent people through your garage door window."
Bamberg, a South Carolina lawmaker, also represents the children of Alton Sterling, who was killed last month by police in Baton Rouge, La., and previously represented the family of Walter Scott, who was killed by a North Charleston, S.C., police officer last year.
As in both of those cases, the victim in the Raleigh case was black and the shooter is white.
But Bamberg said it was Copley – not him, not Thomas' family – who injected the race issue into the Raleigh shooting with his "hoodlums" comment and later telling a 911 dispatcher there were "black males with firearms outside my freaking house."
"Don't judge (Thomas) based on what you think, because of how he looks, because of what he's wearing, because of the color of his skin," Bamberg said.
"There was nothing 'hood' about him," said his mother, Simone Butler-Thomas, noting he liked the color pink and had dressed up to go to the house party.
They had been at the party for less than 30 minutes before deciding to leave and were headed home when the shooting occurred, she said.
"Kourey was a good boy. He didn't bother nobody," she sobbed. "Would this happen if they were Caucasian boys skateboarding up and down the street at 1 a.m.?"
Butler-Thomas had moved the family from New York to Raleigh because she thought it would be safer for them. Thomas had graduated from Louisburg High School and worked at a McDonald's in north Raleigh.
She said he son did things such as helping set up for a neighborhood Easter egg hunt, and Bamberg described Thomas as the type of person who painted his mother's toenails on her birthday and helped his older brother through personal struggles.
Kristian Williams said his younger brother was the only person who could make him smile.
"I don't how to deal with this. I don't know what to do," Williams said as tears streamed down his cheeks. "His death is not in vain. We're going to make sure of that."
Butler-Thomas said she hopes no other parents have to bury their children because of a violent death.
"I just want justice for my son, that's it, for all the parents, for all the kids," she said, choking back tears. "I just want it all to end – all the killing, black kids, white kids, adults. I'm just tired. Everybody should be tired."