By Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press | via South Bend Tribune
Dec. 4, 2020
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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Activists on Friday rallied in person and online to bring attention to the case of a young Black man who was shot by New Mexico state police officers while on a road trip from Indiana to Arizona.
Rodney Applewhite was on his way to Phoenix to visit family for Thanksgiving when he was shot following a police pursuit and an altercation in which authorities say he grabbed an officer’s gun.
It’s been two weeks since the shooting, but New Mexico State Police has yet to confirm Applewhite, of South Bend, as the man who died. His family says they were notified of his death but still have many questions about what happened that November morning.
In Santa Fe, protesters gathered Friday afternoon and caravanned in their vehicles toward the governor’s mansion. Organizer Solinda Guerrero said the group of about 50 cars planned to “make some noise” to make sure Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham heard them.
“We are here to ask you to intervene,” Guerrero said as she stood outside the governor’s residence.
Just a week earlier, another drive-in protest was held in Albuquerque in which people carried signs that read “Justice for Rodney,” and “Black Lives Matter.”
State Police in a statement issued Nov. 19 said an officer fatally shot a man after he grabbed another officer’s gun during an attempted felony arrest. No video from dash cameras or officers’ body cameras has been released.
The confrontation followed a complex pursuit somewhere along a 12-mile stretch of road in Valencia County, according to the statement. The driver reportedly was weaving in and out of opposing lanes of traffic on the Manzano Expressway, a road that ranges from two to four lanes and meanders from Interstate 25 into rural areas east of the village of Los Lunas, about 45 minutes south of Albuquerque.
At one point, officers tried to stop the vehicle with tire deflation devices, but authorities said the driver avoided them by heading into oncoming traffic, nearly hitting another vehicle. After police decided to stop the pursuit, the suspect was later spotted standing in the middle of the road trying to stop traffic.
Applewhite’s aunt, Sherian McCray, lives in a suburb of Phoenix and was one of the family members looking forward to seeing him for the Thanksgiving holiday.
“We want to know exactly what happened. Because who they are describing and who we know — they’re two different people. And he’s not here to give his side of the story,” McCray said.
She said she wished police would have deescalated the situation before it came to gunfire.
Applewhite attended Niles High School for two years before transferring to Clay High School in South Bend, where he played football and basketball. Since January, Applewhite had worked at a Hacienda restaurant and a factory in Elkhart.
Concerns about police use of force intensified this year after a series of incidents in New Mexico and around the nation, including the death of George Floyd, a Black man, after he was held to the ground by a white Minneapolis police officer.
State Police say the investigation into the shooting near Los Lunas is ongoing and the officer involved was placed on standard leave. They have not released the name of the officer nor any details about the types of evidence gathered at the scene or the precise location where the man was shot.
“There are currently no updates,” Officer Dusty Francisco told The Associated Press on Friday. He said the names of those involved would be released later but declined to say when.
Associated Press writer Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report.
Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.