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'Pray That Things Get Better': In Balch Springs, Grief Over The Death Of Jordan Edwards

Tony Gutierrez
A couple of hundred supporters stand holding lit candles as they listen to comments from speakers during a vigil for Jordan Edwards in Balch Springs on Thursday.

The family of Jordan Edwards is preparing for his funeral Saturday morning. The 15-year-old black teenager was killed last weekend by a white Balch Springs policeman.

Officer Roy Oliver fired his rifle into a car that was driving away from a house party. Jordan, an unarmed passenger, was shot in the head as four teenagers in the car – including two brothers – watched.  

Oliver’s been fired and is facing a murder charge.

Across North Texas, and in Balch Springs, there’s been sadness – and anger – over Jordan’s death.

On Wednesday, dozens gathered at multi-faith prayer vigil in the Agape AME church near Fair Park.

“We admit to you that we are angry and we are frustrated,” Imam Omar Suleiman told the dozens who had gathered.

He offered a prayer to the God of Abraham, Jesus, Mohammad — and Jordan Edwards.

Credit Courtesy of Lee Merritt/Edwards family via AP
This undated family photo provided by Edwards family attorney Lee Merritt shows Jordan Edwards, left, posing for a photo with his father, Odell Edwards.

“We are not angry with you and we do not accuse you of showing any lack of mercy to us,” the imam said. “But we complain to you of the lack of mercy on the part of some of your creation.”

Demands for police reform

The national president of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks, attended the service. He says there have been too many shootings of young African-Americans across the country.

“We need to be very clear about this,” Brooks said. “We will not give our permission to the continued brutality of our children. So be prepared for unrest in the most constructive sense of the word but also in the most disruptive sense of the word ... unless we get reform.”

Authorities continue looking into what led to Jordan’s death. Both the Dallas County District Attorney’s office and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department are investigating. 

Demands for a reformed Balch Springs Police Department have been somewhat dampened this week, thanks to the rapid termination of Officer Roy Oliver.

Police Chief Jonathan Haber initially said the car filled with teenagers backed up aggressively toward police. His story changed a day later after he saw police video that showed the car was moving away from officers. The teenagers were leaving a rowdy house party. 

The chief fired Oliver.

'Balch Springs has stepped up to the plate'

That fast action earned praise from Ernest Walker, a local African-American activist.

“I have never heard a chief admit he made a mistake recently when dealing with shootings,” Walker said. “But this chief has integrity and he’s done that. And, yes, Balch Springs has stepped up to the plate and showed other cities how a process like this should take place.”

That might be a reason, some have speculated, that there have been no protests or marches.

However, the Edwards family asked that there not be any in their or their son’s name as they grieved while arranging for they funeral. 

They’re not alone.

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
From left to right, Imam Omar Suleiman, Rev. Michael Waters and Rabbi Elana Zelony at a prayer vigil Wednesday at Agape AME Church in Dallas.

'Concerned for my children'

Earlier this week, Sarita Roberts sat on a bench by the duck pond near Balch Springs police headquarters. As she watched her young children playing, she reflected on the week.

“I am concerned for my children,” she said. “I do have faith in some police officers. There are always good ones and bad ones. I just wish they had a better method of weeding out the bad ones.”

Roberts says police have stressful lives, but they also should be held to a higher standard.

She has seven children — aged 3, 4, 5, 6, 15, 21, and 22.

Roberts started to cry.                      

“I’m still not through it,” she said. “I’m not. Cause I have two young boys here. They’re going to grow up.”

She said she’s worried more about her sons than her daughters.

“Because they’re considered a threat, I guess,” she said. “Because of the color of their skin. I just pray that things get better.

“Just pray that things get better.” 

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.