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Shreveport Blacks Angered Over Three Recent Deaths

September 24, 1988 GMT

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) _ A funeral scheduled for Sunday afternoon will be the third since Christmas for northwest Louisiana black men whose violent deaths have been blamed on whites.

David McKinney died Tuesday in a shooting that triggered two nights of fiery racial violence in the Shreveport neighborhood of Cedar Grove.

For the Rev. Stephen Bradley, one of several black leaders who encouraged an end to the violence, McKinney’s killing stirred memories of a death in Texas last December and the Aug. 4 shotgun slaying of a black teen-ager at a Shreveport restaurant.

Anger over those killings, he said, was a likely factor in last week’s riots.

″For another black to get shot, by a white ... I think overall it’s an old sore with a scab that was on it that has been torn off,″ said Bradley.

In the Aug. 4 shooting, prosecutors said the 17-year-old black victim was trying to avoid trouble and was leaving the restaurant when he was shot. But defense attorneys say their client felt he was in danger that night because blacks and whites had been harassing each other inside the restaurant.

″Now they’re trying to say that it was self-defense,″ Bradley said in an interview last week, shaking his head.

And at a hearing last Tuesday, just hours before the rioting began, charges against one of the defendants were reduced to accessory to murder and his bond was lowered.

That contributed to the anger in Cedar Grove, says black businessman Willie Guiden, whose restaurant escaped major damage in the riots. As the anger grew, the events leading to McKinney’s death unfolded.

Riding in the passenger seat of a friend’s car, a 17-year-old white girl, Tamala Vergo, entered Cedar Grove Tuesday evening. Police said she was looking to purchase drugs in an area some patrol officers call a ″curb-service crack store.″

Exactly what happened then isn’t clear, but sketchy police reports and witnessed indicated that several black men approached the car and the drug deal never came off. Someone snatched something - possibly a gold chain - from Vergo, who then fired her pistol. A bullet struck McKinney, apparently an innocent bystander.

Vergo and her unidentified female companion, also white, took refuge in a convenience store as hundreds of blacks converged on the area.

It was over an hour before police got the women out of the convenience store and safely away. Not long after that, the store and a liquor store next door were gutted by flames.

Vergo, charged with second-degree murder, is jailed in lieu of $100,000 bond. A grand jury is to hear the case against her.

Rioting continued into the early morning Wednesday in Cedar Grove. Sporadic violence occurred again Wednesday night, but by Thursday there was tense calm. On Friday, authorities said they believed the crisis was over.

Black leaders say poor economic conditions in Cedar Grove and the perception that racism still thrives in Shreveport set the stage for the riots.

The December death in Texas involved Loyal Garner Jr. of Florien. Garner died after being picked up in the Hemphill area last Christmas on suspicion of drunken driving.

Two men arrested with the 34-year-old truck driver claimed he was badly beaten by authorities, who were then too slow to get him medical attention.

After Garner’s death Dec. 27, three law officers were charged with federal civil rights violations and state murder counts.

However, a jury found the men innocent of the federal charges, and an appeals court ruled last month that the state couldn’t try the men a second time for the same incident.

The shooting at the Shreveport restaurant, ″Hot Biscuit,″ occurred the same month the appeals court ruled in the Garner case, and some of the participants in Tuesday night’s disturbance chanted the restaurant’s name.

Jason Willis, a white 19-year-old, now stands accused in the Aug. 4 shotgun slaying of Darren Martin, a black 17-year-old.

Bradley said the killing of McKinney - coming so shortly after the deaths of Garner and Martin - added to the fears of blacks who believe that racism still thrives in Shreveport and that equal justice for black people is hard to come by.

″You can see injustice,″ said Bradley. ″You can see it. ... We’re not blind.″