David Jones was a black man fatally shot in the back by a white police officer in June. I wrote the other day that the Fraternal Order of Police should cancel Sunday’s planned fund-raiser for the cop who killed him, who has been suspended with intent to dismiss.
FOP Lodge 5 head John McNesby had texted me that the benefit would help the officer, Ryan Pownall, “get thru the next few months without any money coming in.”
If the event goes on as scheduled, Jones’ former girlfriend Tiffanie Dunschee Luke tells me she’d consider attending as a protest — except that she left Philadelphia for good on Monday.
Luke couldn’t take another day in the city, and I can’t say that I blame her. Everywhere she looked, she saw reminders of Jones: the home they once shared in East Falls; the places they’d visited together; the street where he died after being apprehended while riding a dirt bike and illegally carrying a gun.
Although they never married and had broken up at the time of his death, Jones had remained a father figure to her 14-year-old son, whom he met when the boy was 9. The day before Jones’ tragic police encounter, he had attended the boy’s eighth-grade graduation from Germantown Friends School.
“I just had to get away,” Luke told me. “Once he was killed, I knew I had to get away. I just didn’t know how far.”
A registered nurse, she’s already lined up work and moved into an apartment in a West Coast city that she asked me not to disclose. Her 14-year-old, T’khai Dunschee, is enrolled in school, and her new life is ready to begin. She has worked hard to put everything upsetting about Philadelphia behind her.
Then, on Tuesday, she logged onto Facebook and read my column about the planned benefit for Pownall. The “I Stand With Ryan” party is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday at Lodge 5. All of her pain, hurt, and outrage came rushing back to the point that it “turned my stomach,” she told me. “I absolutely want that called off.”
“The city has done absolutely nothing for us who are grieving the loss of DJ (that’s what we called him),” she wrote on Facebook. “Our 14-year-old son doesn’t even sleep well anymore after Pownall killed his father! He worries a lot and he doesn’t trust the police at all! Now I have to figure out a way to break the news of this ridiculous, disrespectful party to him, because he’s going to hear about it eventually. …
“Throw a fundraiser for a killer who was suspended and could be charged any day! Instead of sitting down and trying to figure out a way to rebuild relationships between the PPD and citizens of Philadelphia!”
Pownall, a 12-year veteran, is on suspension from the force, pending dismissal. Earlier this month, Commissioner Richard Ross said surveillance video showed that Pownall had shot at Jones when his back was turned and was between 10 and 35 feet away. Jones also had dropped the gun. Ross said Pownall’s unloading his weapon as he did was clearly in violation of police protocol.
It’s easy to see why Jones’ family and friends are upset about Sunday’s event.
To them, Jones wasn’t just some random suspect. Yes, there were messy aspects to his life, but he was part of a large, extended family who loved him despite the fact that he’d served time behind bars for drug offenses. They describe him as a charismatic, caring young man who was working hard to rebuild his life.
After prison, Jones got a commercial driver’s license and was gainfully employed as a truck driver. After breaking up with Luke, whom he’d met in 2012 while driving a cab, Jones married another woman in an Islamic ceremony. The day he was killed, Jones was on his way to Hunting Park to sell the dirt bike that he was on when Pownall apprehended him.
Family members are trying to keep his memory alive. They’ve created a makeshift memorial on a table in his father’s living room with newspaper articles about what happened to him and his photos. His siblings call out, “Hello, David!” as they pass it. To honor his memory, Luke also has created an online GoFundMe crowdfunding account to raise money to help ex-convicts who struggle with reentry as Jones did.
“I want to send somebody else to school with his same issues, like maybe they have a felony and they want to change their life around and they can’t because they don’t have the money to pay for maybe a trade school or some college credits,” Luke told me.
Black Lives Matter activists say they plan to show up at Sunday’s gathering to stage a “Back the Black Rally.”
And Luke would be standing right there with them. If only she could stand another day in Philly.