Black Protester Shot to Death Outside Omaha Bar

Tracy Connor
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Handout

A young black protester was shot dead outside a bar in Omaha as unrest across the nation engulfed the Nebraska city—and the white bar owner was reportedly in custody.

The victim was identified as 22-year-old James Scurlock, whose father called for justice as the city braced for another night of chaos.

“Last night I lost a son, my wife lost a son, my kids lost a brother,” the grieving dad, who has the same name, told reporters at the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation Visitors Center,

“His daughter lost a father. All because he decided to protest against racism. There’s a lot of speculation and rumors about how this happened. I don’t really care to be honest. My family wants closure and peace.

“What we want is for this to go to court and get a full prosecution. We want this to go with justice and go peacefully,” he added.

Police confirmed they had a suspect in custody, but did not name him. However the Omaha World-Herald and KMTV both identified him as Jake Gardner, owner of two bars—The Hive and The Gatsby—on the street where it happened.

In previous media stories, Gardner has described himself as a libertarian, a former Marine who was deployed to Iraq and Haiti, and a volunteer for the Trump campaign in 2016.

Gardner’s father told The Daily Beast that attorneys had advised the family not to comment.

Police provided no details about what led to the killing, except to say officers were not involved. Police Chief Todd Schmaderer called it a “terrible incident.”

“Investigators are in the process of reviewing all collected evidence, video, witness interviews and conferring with the Douglas County Attorney’s office,” police said in a statement.

Even before the shooting, Gardner and his bars had been a source of controversy.

In 2016, he caused a furor when he wrote on Facebook that transgender women should have had their “appendage” removed if they want to use female bathrooms.

“I’m asking transgender folk to use the unisex... bathroom,” he told the World-Herald at the time. “I don’t think it’s a big ask.”

The Hive had been the target of several complaints on social media that it discriminated against black patrons, with one person tweeting that Gardner personally refused entry to her black husband while letting her white brother go in.

Last year, the State Liquor Authority issued a warning to Gardner for failing to cooperate with police who were investigating a possible assault on site. 

Gardner made no secret of his political and philosophical views. In 2016, while in Washington the attend President Trump’s inauguration, he was interviewed about his views on the Women’s March underway.

“Everyone has a right to speak their mind,” he said, wearing a Trump sweatshirt, with his dog Bron in a MAGA vest.

“Everyone loves the dog until they see the vest,” he said.

He posted a photo in 2017 of himself and Bron posing with Donald Trump Jr. with the caption: “Here’s a guy who returns my emails 100 percent of the time, every time. #FAKENEWS #BRONANDDON.”

As news of the shooting spread, local officials rushed to address a social media post that was circulating in which a man wearing a law-enforcement uniform appeared to comment on the shooting by writing: “Good shoot them all.”

The Omaha Police Department quickly pointed out the person who supposedly made the post was not wearing one of their uniforms, and the Douglas County Corrections Department later said the person depicted was a former corrections officer who was on the payroll for less than three months in 2019.

“We have no way of determining whether this social media post is authentic or fabricated. However, the comments posted are hateful and not in any way consistent with the values of the Douglas County Department of Corrections,” the agency said in a statement.

Omaha, like dozens of cities across the U.S., saw protests over the in-custody death of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis descend into chaos—with some in the crowds hurling projectiles and breaking windows and police firing tear gas.

The mayor declared a state of state emergency that begins at 8 p.m. Sunday and will last for 72 hours, and the National Guard was called in to embed with the Omaha police department.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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