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Next Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of Jeremy McDole’s death.
The 28-year old, wheelchair-bound man was shot and killed by Wilmington police officers last September. After the Delaware’s Department of Justice investigated, it decided against charging any of the four officers involved, though it did offered strong criticism of one officer’s performance and how the city trains its police force for situations like this one.
McDole’s mother and grandmother are suing the city of Wilmington for what they say was a racially-charged shooting and wouldn’t have occurred if McDole had been white.
McDole’s mother and grandmother aren’t the only ones involved in the fight for what they call justice for Jeremy. For the first anniversary of his death, McDole’s younger sister Keandra is planning a block party celebration called Jeremy McDole Day in honor of her brother.
But her efforts extend beyond her plans for Jeremy McDole day.
Delaware Public Media’s Megan Pauly spent some time with Keandra recently to talk about her life – before and after her brother’s death.
Keandra McDole has never had an easy life, even before the death of her brother.
But she’s always had high aspirations. For as long as she can remember, McDole wanted to own her own hair and nail salon.
And despite spending a few years in jail, she thought she might just have a shot at it when her reentry counselor helped her find a school: the Delaware Learning Institute of Cosmetology in Dagsboro, Delaware.
“He said, well what’s one thing you want to do? My passion has always been hair and nails. Hair and nails, I love doing it,” McDole said. “I sit out here and braid hair and do everybody’s hair: guys, girls, kids and everything.”
Another added bonus: the Department of Labor and the First State Community Action program were willing to foot the $16,000 bill for her to attend.
But when she showed up for orientation, McDole was given some bad news.
Because of drug-related felonies, she wouldn’t be able to get her cosmetology license even after completion of coursework.
“So that kind of discouraged me,” McDole said. “First of all, my school was paid for. So you’re going to turn down the money for me to go to school, and everybody deserves a second chance. That’s all I’m asking for. It really discouraged me. Because I have two felonies, I can’t go to school for hair and nails? I don’t understand.”
Being unable to pursue her dream of a cosmetology career left McDole feeling defeated, but not enough to completely give up.
She was living near Rehoboth Beach at the time and says she worked for Popeyes for around three years until a change in ownership. McDole then moved on to Taco Bell and Rite Aid, pulling double shifts at minimum wage. She felt she was working hard, and trying her best to get her life back on track.
But then her brother Jeremy was killed, and she found herself in Wilmington more and more to be with family.
She ultimately decided to quit her two jobs, and move back to Wilmington.
Now, Keandra spends her time researching legislation and policies on things like police use of deadly force and attending community meetings on her brother’s behalf.
“Fighting for Jeremy, there’s no time when you do it,” she said. “There’s no schedule when you do it. This is like a 24-hour thing. Meetings come up that you feel like you have to go to to share your brother’s story.”
Sometimes she feels like she should be bringing in an income, but she ultimately believes the fight for her brother is too important right now. She worries she’ll lose momentum for what she calls the Jeremy McDole movement if she takes on another full-time job.
“This is my job right now,” McDole said. “It doesn’t pay, my brother is very cheap. And he ain’t give me no vacation time, no holiday pay. I’m ready to go back to work though, but I’m still trying to balance it.”
Ever since she began the fight for her brother, her career aspirations have also shifted. She wants to use her own personal experiences to help others.
“I want to do something with my brother’s name attached to it,” she said. “I want to make that into something I do for my future. Something that has to do with teenagers, like counseling and stuff like that. Because it’s always bothered me growing up. Me getting into little things and having to go to counseling, go to a probation officer…stuff like that.”
McDole’s love for kids is a trait she says she shared with her brother, and she’s making sure to include plenty of kid-friendly activities in the Jeremy McDole Day block party.
“All the kids around here know Bam Bam. ‘Where’s my cookie at Bam Bam’ and stuff, so. I have to make sure that the kids are involved because he’ll probably jump out of the grave and smack me upside the head if I ignore the kids,” McDole said.
She said next year, she’d like to take a busload of kids to the University of Delaware and walk around campus.
“Being around here, it’s hard for you to think that you have a future out here with everything that goes on. I want to show them that even though you’re in this environment, you can still make something of yourself. Where I am today and where I was then is a total 360, total 360. I tell people all the time: if I can do it, you can do it. I’m no different and no better than you.”
And now that she’s closer to her family, she wants to set a positive example for her younger nieces and nephews and other kids in the community, helping babysit and even buying them the occasional ice cream from a nearby ice cream truck.
In addition to creating a day for kids, she wants Jeremy McDole Day to be a time to remember the positive things about her brother, like his generosity.
She wants it to be special – so special she bought several bottles of weed killer to get rid of the patches of grass and weeds in between cracks on the sidewalks in the block where the event will be held.
“We shall see. I’ll be running around going crazy, I always do,” she said. “And they’re like: calm down, calm down. I’m like bridezilla. Anytime I plan anything I’m like a bridezilla. Everything has to be perfect.”
And it’s not just Jeremy that she wants the day to be perfect for: there will be a balloon release or a candle lighting – one for each person lost to gun violence since Jeremy McDole’s death last year.
“By the end of the night, we’re going to be broke but it’s for a good cause,” she said.
A cause she shares with other families who’ve lost loved ones to gun violence. McDole says those families from across the country offer her network of support.
It started when her family went to a “Mothers of the Movement” meeting back in April and heard the stories of others who’d lost loved ones to gun violence. McDole says it was one of the most meaningful meetings her family has attended.
It includes Candy Chapman, whose 18-year-old son was shot and killed by police in a Walmart parking lot in Virginia last year.
“I haven’t met her face to face, but I feel her pain through Facebook, through all of it,” McDole said.
She hasn’t known Chapman very long, but says she’s already helping arrange for people to attend rallies in Wilmington. McDole says one mom in particular has encouraged her to keep going: the mother of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.
“She’s the one who was telling me to keep on doing what I’m doing,” McDole said. “Keep on protesting. She said, listen. We make makeshift coffins and we drop them off at our mayor’s house on his front steps, we drop them off. I was amazed. I was like, gosh, thank you for that idea.”
She says it’s nice to be able to send a text, Facebook message or even video or phone call to someone in the network anytime she feels like she needs to talk.
“It just feels good. It hurts, but it feels good to know that you’re not in this fight alone. We need to come together and fight together,” McDole said. “It will stop once everybody around the world put their foot down. I want to try to put together something where we all protest the same day, shut down police stations and courthouses the same day at the same time.”
But first, she has Jeremy McDole Day to finish planning – music, games for the kids, face painting and more.
“That’s what I’m hoping: hopefully it’s a success, the Jeremy McDole Day,” she said. “We shall pray… I miss him a lot.”