Say Their Name: The Story of Duane Strong Jr.
Disclaimer: In our exclusive series, Say Their Name, DCP Entertainment takes a deeper look into the impact of the assault and killing of unarmed Black people by the police and in ‘Stand Your Ground’ states. We share the stories of families who have been negatively impacted by these situations, as well as memorialize the lives of the individuals who were victimized. We did not talk to officers or governing bodies—just the families and their support systems. We are not the court of law, nor do we try to be. For legal purposes we are not here to presume guilt or innocence for anyone, because, quite frankly, we do not want to be sued. We simply want to give the families a voice while examining what happens when the hashtags stop and the news unfortunately moves on to the next big story. All we want is to give the families the opportunity to control their narrative and share ways we can all help. While also raising money for the families highlighted in the series.
“Duane was a great child. His smile brightened my day. If I just seen him smile, I just knew my whole day would be okay.”
That’s how Duane’s mom, Ayouna McClinton, remembers her son as we sit in her living room decorated with family photos and sports trophies.
Duane grew up in Florida’s capital city, Tallahassee, which has a substantial Black community and is home to the historically Black Florida A&M University.
Curtis Sampson, Duane’s uncle, tells us how Tallahassee was a great place to come up when he was young. “People sat on the porch, at times, people didn’t lock the doors.” But he also laments how those days are gone now.
Growing up, Duane was a natural at sports—especially football.
“When he got a football in his hand, that was it,” says Ayouna. “He was a running back, defensive back, kick returner, punt returner, all-around athlete,” Ayouna says, as she points to Duane’s trophies.
Duane had dreams of going to the NFL.
Football was in Duane’s blood—his uncles Curtis and Ben both played. And both won state championships.
Curtis, who has also coached football in the past, talks about how “some kids can’t turn it on and off.” Those kids, he says, are the ones who make it to the next level. “[Duane] was definitely headed in that direction,” says Curtis.
But after a series of family losses, Duane seemed to change, says his family.
“When my dad passed away, he kind of changed,” says Ayouna. “I think Duane was in the fourth grade. I remember he said… ‘People are always leaving me.’”
Duane had also lost his grandmother when he was young, and a good friend named Terrell.
After his grandfather died, Duane started having trouble in school. He got held back a year and got into trouble and had run-ins with the police—once for alleged grand theft.
As a teenager Duane was sent to the Hastings Juvenile Correctional program, right outside Jacksonville.
Duane’s family soon grew concerned about how he was being treated by the staff. Especially in the wake of Martin Lee Anderson’s death, a 14-year-old Florida boy who died at Bay County Boot Camp, another youth detention center.
When Duane called home once from the center, Ayouna could sense something was wrong. The staff wouldn’t let Duane talk, and Ayouna found it very suspicious.
She heard that staff used physical violence against the juveniles in their care. She became so concerned she had him moved to another facility in Okaloosa. Unfortunately, things didn’t seem much better there.
But Duane made it through and eventually left the juvenile system—with his GED. He enrolled in Tallahassee Community College and was on his way to a new life.
But on the night of May 28, 2014, things would take a tragic turn.
That night, Duane went to a nightclub with his cousin and some friends. Not more than a couple hours after Duane left her house, Ayouna got a frantic phone call that her son had been shot. 5 or 10 minutes later, she got a call telling her that Duane had died.
At the time he was shot, Duane was trying to leave the night club parking lot as police were responding to the scene about a report of shots fired in the area. As Duane tried to drive away, officers told him to stop. When Duane tried to drive around the officers, Tallahassee police officer Clay Fallis started firing shots into the car. The first shot went straight through the windshield and hit Duane. Yet Fallis continued firing into the car.
Duane didn’t get more than 200 feet before his car ran off the road into the woods, where he died inside the car.
After the shooting, the same agency responsible for killing Duane investigated the incident—an obvious conflict of interest. The family’s attorney, Mutaqee Akbar, says the police constructed a story about how Duane was ramming into cars and trying to hit police with his car while “fleeing.”
But once Akbar’s team conducted research and hired engineers to reconstruct the scene, they determined that Duane couldn’t have been driving faster than about 10 miles per hour. The team used nightclub surveillance footage to piece together what happened. They determined that the officer’s account of what happened couldn’t be true. Akbar also says the police didn’t have probable cause to stop Duane in the first place.
Akbar says investigators gave Officer Fallis closed-ended “softball questions” to essentially create a narrative about what happened.
Ayouna says immediately after the shooting the police started portraying Duane as a criminal.
“He was never a victim in their eyes. Never. Perpetrator from the moment…he was shot by police. They even showed a [jail] picture of Duane…Never asked me for a picture. They just took that picture and just blasted it all over the news.”
Duane’s story is complicated by the fact that there was a gun and drugs in the car he was driving, which didn’t belong to him. Because of this, high-profile lawyers like Ben Crump (who has served as the attorney for the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others) refused to take on Duane’s case.
Attorney Akbar cites how more complicated cases like Duane’s don’t get the same attention, because they’re not “easy.”
After nearly a year of litigation, Duane’s family decided to pursue a settlement, and the case went to mediation. During this process, Ayouna was able to confront Officer Fallis directly.
“We sat across each other from the table. He spoke first. And he gave me what went down that night, from his perspective of what happened. And how he felt. But he never could give me eye contact.”
“And then I asked him, ‘How do you feel?’ He said, ‘I’m so sorry.’ And I asked him, I said, ‘Are you sure?’ I said, ‘Because, I saw your video immediately after you killed him…And they were giving you the correct words to say in your interrogation.’ I said, ‘And you were sitting there, and you were joking. You were playing with your phone.’”
“I said, ‘You didn’t have any compassion, for you had took a life. You had no sadness on your face. But yet you sit here across from me and telling me that you’re sorry? With no eye contact.’ I said, ‘I don’t believe that.’”
The family settled with the city for around $330,000. Much of that went to pay attorney fees. And none of the money will bring Duane back.
Every year Ayouna and her family try to have a memorial they call “Duane Day” on May 29th. They get shirts printed and gather at a park to serve the community food and play music. In 2020 they couldn’t gather because of Covid-19, but Ayouna hopes to resume this year.
In terms of policing in their community, Duane’s uncle Curtis says he doesn’t trust the Tallahassee police for even the most basic functions, like a traffic stop.
“No such thing as a routine traffic stop now. Those days are gone. So, it should be some type of community policing, because it’s a total divide right now. It’s an us against them atmosphere,” says Curtis, echoing the calls of Black Lives Matter activists and police abolitionists to completely reimagine public safety.
At a minimum, Ayouna, Curtis, and attorney Akbar all want to see major criminal justice reforms and more training for police. Ayouna says she wants to see a law passed banning police from firing into a moving vehicle.
Ayouna made her pain very clear to Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo.
“I met [DeLeo] during the time that Duane was killed, and he didn’t have sympathy… And I just said, ‘Just think about your kids partying near college…[they] go to a party or whatever, or even a nightclub.’ I said, ‘Just look at it as a parent, not as just an officer today. Look at it as a parent. And how would you feel if you lost your child?’”
Duane Strong’s life mattered. We must never stop saying his name.
Hear the full story from Duane’s family in our two-part podcast at https://www.dcpofficial.com/duane-strong.
Here’s how you can help:
Donate to the family of Duane Strong athttps://www.gofundme.com/f/say-their-name-memorial-fund or using the CashApp - $IMISSWANE
DCP Entertainment is your destination for the underrepresented voice. We share stories you won’t find anywhere else. Check out all DCP’s Black podcasts athttps://www.dcpofficial.com/.