A Georgia neighborhood is reeling after the fifth police-involved death in the city this year, and community leaders are calling on the top police official to resign and a federal probe into the chain of shootings.
Authorities said police officers approached Saudi Arai Lee, 31, as he walked in the middle of the street in his neighborhood in Savannah on June 24.
Lee showed officers his weapons permit, raised his shirt and pulled his gun from the holster. At some point, Lee led officers on a foot chase, and he was shot, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations said.
“Family after family are crying because of sons or their daughters shot down by this police department, and it must stop,” Elder James Johnson, founder of the activist group Racial Justice Network, said at a news conference on June 29.
Details of Lee’s fatal interaction with police are slim. The GBI, the state’s investigative agency, is currently reviewing the case, but Johnson and others in the community say that’s not enough. They want the FBI to review the local police agency’s policies and practices.
“I don’t know if it’s the training or a fear of a Black man, but seems like they shoot and ask questions later, and we cannot and will not tolerate this,” Johnson said.
Lee was from Carver Village, a historic Black neighborhood in Georgia’s oldest city. Several friends, family members and community members lined the streets on June 28 demanding change.
“We need justice!” they chanted.
They also held a candlelight vigil that night to remember the man.
“He was a smart young man, smart. He rap, an awesome rapper. He stayed to himself,” said Carver Village resident Felicia Walker, who took a liking to Lee, calling him one of her “neighborhood sons.”
“A lot of times you would see him walking, he would be by himself, Sometimes he would come to my house, sit on the porch and talk to my son, and it’s just tragic.”
Walker said she had reported issues that Lee had in the past with the same officers, but nothing came of it. Reports show Lee was shot by a white police officer, Ernest Ferguson, who has been with the Savannah Police Department since March 2021.
According to reports, a video was posted on Facebook that was later removed showing the aftermath of the shooting. Savannah Now reports that bystanders in the video rushed to Lee as two officers stood nearby. The onlookers urged police to help the man splayed out in the street. The paper reports that the officers attempted to resuscitate the man four minutes later.
People could be heard saying in the video that Lee had a gun but did not point it at officers, according to reports. Police said medical aid was given to the victim at the scene. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The GBI Medical Examiner’s Office will perform an autopsy on the body.
“This man had a legal concealed weapons permit and still was shot down. It should never be a death sentence [for] a Black man for carrying a weapon,” Johnson said at the June 29 press conference.
“There will be a series of protests in front of this police department to demand that this police chief step down,” Johnson said. “We don’t think that he’s doing a good job in training his officers.”
Four officer-involved deaths in Savannah occurred before mid-April and within two months. In 2021, just five police shootings were reported in Savannah for the entire year. The GBI is investigating 62 police shootings in the state so far this year.
Savannah police spokeswoman Bianca Johns said the department would not comment on the demands for federal intervention and the chief’s resignation. She said the GBI would conduct a “thorough and independent investigation” into the shooting.
The local agency’s Internal Affairs Division has also “launched an investigation into the actions that occurred that day,” she said.
“Both investigations are ongoing independently of one another at this time. Once the GBI concludes its investigation, the case will be handed over to the DA’s Office to make a final determination,” Johns said in a statement.