Hannah Michelle Bussa
22-year-old James Scurlock was killed over eight months ago during a protest for George Floyd in downtown Omaha. As a beloved son, father, brother, and friend, Scurlock’s death has left an impact on many in the community.
The loss of James Scurlock – or “JuJu,” as he was known to loved ones – has sparked a movement in Omaha. This movement, called Justice for James, seeks to improve the city so what happened to James won’t happen again.
Despite the outcome of the grand jury indictments and Jake Gardner’s subsequent death, community members are still working toward Justice for James. Ja Keen Fox, a community organizer, explained the new phase and the vision of the Justice for James initiative.
“Justice for James was never about Jake Gardner,” he said. “While part of our success was his indictment, we center the feelings of the Black community in how we navigate our identity. Jake Gardner, just like Donald Trump, [was a] symptom of the social ill of racism and white supremacy. Our work remains unchanged.”
That work has included two previous phases. The first phase of Justice for James was the 36-day demonstration outside of County Attorney Don Kleine’s house, symbolizing the 36 hours it took him to decide not to charge Gardner in Scurlock’s death.
“This first phase was important to showcase to community members that a well thought out, strategic, and safe demonstration was possible and critical to creating sustainable systemic change,” Fox said.
The second phase was a community engagement effort. People canvassed door to door to discuss who Scurlock truly was: a talented man loved by his family.
“[Canvassing aimed] to inject a positive narrative about the tool of protest as well as specifically to address the negative media campaign OPD and Don Kleine were engaging in to vilify James Scurlock,” Fox said.
There aren’t a set number of phases to the Justice for James initiative. The next phase is the third phase, which is focused on the local election cycle this spring.
“The third phase of Justice for James is creating political power in our movement by assessing candidates for city offices’ platforms on racial justice, criminal justice reform, and police reform,” Fox said. “After the assessment, the movement will endorse candidates in each race and utilize the volunteer base to empower their campaigns.”
After this phase, Justice for James will continue to work toward change in Omaha.
“Activism and community organizing should remain fluid and adaptable to the social psyche and respond with the tactics necessary to establish sustainable systemic change,” Fox said.
While Justice for James continues to organize people in the community, their vision is clear.
“The ultimate goal is to create radical change in how the city of Omaha is governed and to decriminalize Blackness,” Fox explained.
For those interested in getting involved, the Justice for James Facebook page will be updated with information about the third phase. That page also hosts updates and ways to volunteer, and an upcoming partnership with organizers in the city will be announced soon as well.