Say Their Name: The Story of John H. Crawford III
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.
Note: To avoid confusion, we will refer to John Crawford III as “John” and his father as “John Jr.” throughout this article.
“He was an outdoors kid…He played almost every sport. He did the hockey, baseball, basketball, soccer, football.” That’s how his mom, Tressa Sherrod, remembers her energetic son, John H. Crawford III.
Tressa met John’s dad, John Crawford Jr., through his god-brother. John Jr. was studying sociology and criminal justice at Kentucky State University, and Tressa was working in Cincinnati.
Although he came as a surprise, it wasn’t long before John Crawford III made his debut appearance. He was born at The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati on July 29th, 1992.
John grew up in Cincinnati around his extended family and was fiercely protective of those he loved. His parents describe him as an athletic, fearless kid who didn’t let anyone push him around.
“He excelled in football when he was growing up,” says John Jr. “He played for the Hilltop. He played city league when he was five. And then as he got older, of course he got better and better. And so we had all of these academies and private schools wanting him to play.”
Growing up, John spent lots of time with cousins, aunts, and uncles.
“He had a few nicknames, and it was crazy, he’d answer, respond to all of them… Mr. Green Jeans, Trey, Runice,” says John’s aunt, Sharon Brown.
John was a restless teenager. He struggled through his senior year but eventually got his high school diploma. His cousin, Brandon Sherrod, remembers how the two connected around music as young adults.
“Our favorite artist was Project Pat,” said Brandon. “We probably played the same song about a hundred times a day.”
Brandon said John had dreams of becoming a rapper—but appreciated all kinds of music. “His openness to music, it was very wide,” says Brandon. “We listened to rock, a lot of R&B, but he definitely had an ear for music.”
At the age of 20 and then again at 21, John had two sons of his own. He completed a program to get his high school diploma and was planning the next phase of his life.
“He was in a good place. He was proud of himself. He was ready to go, at that time, he was on his way,” says John Jr. “I said, ‘Okay, now you can go to college.’ I said, ‘We’re going to get you prep.’ And actually, he was getting ready to go to Kentucky State.”
On July 29th, 2014, John celebrated his birthday with his dad at a local bar.
“We drank some beer and we played pool, and we hugged and kissed each other,” says John Jr. “I had the best time with my son, man. We really kicked it.”
Exactly one week after celebrating his 22nd birthday with his father and one week before finalizing his enrollment at his father’s alma mater, John Crawford III was killed by Ohio police.
The date was August 5th, 2014. John and his new girlfriend Tasha Thomas decided to go to Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio. While shopping, John picked up an unpackaged rifle-style toy BB gun. He was holding it at his side while talking on his cell phone with LeeCee, the mother of his children.
“Well, my understanding [is] the police, they received a 911 call saying that there was a black male, six foot tall or taller, angry, pointing a gun at women and children looking like he’s ready to go in the Walmart,” says John Jr.
Another Walmart shopper, Ronald Ritchie, called 911 claiming Crawford had been pointing the gun at fellow customers (security camera footage revealed that John never pointed or waved the toy gun at anyone).
Two Beavercreek police officers, Sergeant David Darko and officer Sean Williams, arrived at the Walmart shortly after getting the call about a “subject with a gun” in the pet supplies area of the store.
“So, [Darko and Williams] entered the Walmart guns drawn. And they stopped two patrons and they asked, ‘Where’s this guy that’s holding up the women and children with the rifle?’ And [the patrons] basically said, ‘What are you talking about?... Sir, ain’t nobody holding up nobody,’” says John Jr.
The officers searched every aisle until they found John. While Sergeant Darko tried to get John’s attention, officer Williams moved around him and, within seconds, shot John from 16 feet away.
LeeCee was on the phone with John at the time he was shot. She happened to be at John’s parents’ house. She started screaming and almost dropped the phone.
“I did get the phone from her and trying to call his name. I put him on speaker and calling his name,” says John’s mom, Tressa. “Of course, there was no response.”
John’s dad remembers, “At the time you can clearly hear the paramedics have gotten there, and they said, ‘Try to stay, stay with us, stay with us, sir, keep your arms, raise your arms, raise them and just try to stay with them.’ You can just hear the breathing and the gurgling, and the breathing. He was desperately trying to live…All of a sudden, it just, there was this big, big exhale. And that was it.”
At the hospital, doctors told Tressa and John Jr. that their son was gone.
Later John’s family learned that Angela Williams, who is not related to the officer, was on the other end of the aisle where John was shot with her two children—the same children that the 911 caller claimed John had pointed a gun at just moments earlier. When Angela heard the shots, she ran for shelter with her children. And in the terror and panic of the moment, she fell to the ground and died of a heart attack in the store.
John’s parents describe how police immediately began framing the story to cover their mistakes and make John look like a thug. The night he died, the police held a press conference announcing their narrative that John had come to rob the Beavercreek Walmart and terrorize its patrons.
In the immediate aftermath of John’s death, there were protests staged outside of the Beavercreek Walmart. But the attention didn’t last long, because only days after John’s death, Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9th, 2014.
Though the media and community attention had shifted, the family of John Crawford III had hired an attorney, Michael Wright, and were preparing for a grand jury investigation.
The family tried to get Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to release the video of the shooting to the public. DeWine refused—despite watching the video of the shooting with John’s parents and promising to get the family justice.
“What we saw in the video was basically the officers coming in Walmart, seeing John at the end of the aisle, and just shooting him on sight,” says John Jr.
The family’s attorney also tried to get the Department of Justice involved to file a civil rights violation against the officers. But the DOJ refused, saying they didn’t believe they could substantiate such a claim. They closed the case.
The fact that the case was more or less ignored under Black leadership at the state and federal level infuriated John Jr.
“We had prosecutor Ken Parker, Deputy Attorney General Carter Stewart, and then of course you had President Obama and under him, Eric Holder….So you telling me that for the first time in this damn history, we got black people running shit and Obama ain’t signed no executive orders other than the Blue Bill in context of what we’re talking about right now. And you can’t prosecute a fucking obvious murder?”
Having not received justice through prosecution of Beavercreek officer Sean Williams, the family and attorney Michael Wright shifted their focus to a civil case.
They sued Walmart and settled with the city and police department of Beavercreek for $1.7 million. The family used the money to help pay for their legal fees and for their family, which included John Crawford III’s two sons.
John Jr. is now the primary guardian of his son’s two boys. They live with him in Kentucky, but they make frequent trips to Cincinnati to be with their grandmother and extended family. But John Crawford Jr. is doing even more in the name of his son, as he’s connected with activists and politicians to create systematic change.
He has spoken at several conferences about police brutality, policing, and criminal justice. But he’s very selective about who he chooses to work with. He doesn’t want his son’s death exploited or sensationalized.
John Crawford Jr. and his family have played an important role in getting the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 introduced. The Act would establish a national standard for the operation of police departments; mandate data collection on police encounters; reprogram existing funds to invest in transformative community-based policing programs; and streamline federal law to prosecute excessive force and establish independent prosecutors for police investigations. At the time of this writing, the Act has passed the House, and is waiting for introduction on the Senate floor.
While John Jr. continues fighting to create lasting change that will hopefully bring an end to what they’ve experienced, the family still is without their loved one, John Crawford III.
John Crawford’s life mattered. We must never stop saying his name.
There’s so much more to John Crawford’s story. Hear the full account in our exclusive interviews with John’s family, the family’s attorney, and others at: https://www.dcpofficial.com/john-crawford.
Here’s how you can help:
Sign the petition to get the John Crawford III Law enacted, which would hold police accountable for the wrongful use of deadly force.
Donate to family through DCP’s crowdfunding efforts at https://www.gofundme.com/f/say-their-name-memorial-fund
Vote for Democratic Senators and urge them to fight for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020.
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 at https://www.dcpofficial.com/.