Funeral today for Roger Fortson, airman shot by Florida deputy

Rev. Al Sharpton expected to speak at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church service
Mika Fortson, mother of Roger Fortson, a U.S. Navy airman, holds a photo of her son during a news conference with Attorney Ben Crump, Thursday, May 9, 2024, in Ft. Walton Beach, Fla. Fortson was shot and killed by police in his apartment on May 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

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Mika Fortson, mother of Roger Fortson, a U.S. Navy airman, holds a photo of her son during a news conference with Attorney Ben Crump, Thursday, May 9, 2024, in Ft. Walton Beach, Fla. Fortson was shot and killed by police in his apartment on May 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The funeral for Air Force Senior Airman Roger Fortson, killed by a Florida deputy earlier this month, is scheduled for 11 a.m. today at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest.

U.S. civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton is among those scheduled to speak.

New Birth Senior Pastor Jamal Bryant, who will deliver the eulogy, called Fortson “an American patriot” and said the Black man’s killing only reinforces that “we are not in a post-racial society.”

Flower bouquets, a pair of combat boots and an open bottle of beer are among a growing number of items left by mourners this week outside the Okaloosa County, Florida apartment where Fortson was shot. He graduated from DeKalb County’s McNair High School, then joined the Air Force, in 2019.

FILE - This photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, shows Senior Airman Roger Fortson in a Dec. 24, 2019, photo. (U.S. Air Force via AP, File)

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He was 23.

Authorities say the deputy was responding to a call about a disturbance at Fortson’s apartment complex and that Fortson was holding a gun when he answered the door. Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the family, called Fortson’s shooting unjustified.

“He was at the wrong apartment. We know that.” Crump said Thursday. “What crime did Roger commit? What did Roger do wrong to deserve the death sentence?”

The deputy was instructed to go to Unit 1401 by an employee at the complex’s leasing office, who had reported a domestic disturbance, according to the family’s attorneys.

But Fortson was alone in the apartment with his small, white dog, Chloe, they said. He was on a FaceTime call with his girlfriend during the fatal shooting, making plans for the weekend.

Fortson answered the door while holding a gun that appeared to be pointed at the ground, according to body camera footage reviewed by The Associated Press. Within a few seconds, the deputy shot Fortson six times, only then yelling for him to drop his weapon.

Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden said the deputy acted in self-defense, and rejected assertions that law enforcement had come to the wrong apartment.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating.

A small shrine is pictured Monday, May 13, 2024, in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. at the door of an apartment where a Florida deputy shot and killed Senior Airman Roger Fortson. The shrine includes a long wooden plank, anchored by two sets of aviator wings and a black marker to leave thoughts, a Stella Artois, and combat boots and an American Flag. As the unit takes a day to grieve and prepare for a funeral Friday, May 17, questions remain about the shooting. (AP Photo)

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Crump said that Fortson had no criminal history and that he was a licensed, registered gun owner in the state of Florida.

“He was a good young man, had the brightest of futures,” he said. “The police, we believe, used excessive force and executed him.”

He said Fortson was a role model to his younger siblings and praised the family for coming together and calling for answers at such a trying time.

“They know all too well in America if they don’t come up here, even while they’re grieving, and fight for justice, they won’t have any chance of getting justice,” Crump said.

He then listed several Black people who had been killed by law enforcement in high-profile cases: Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Terence Crutcher, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor.

Fortson’s body was brought back to Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon and escorted from the plane by the Delta Honor Guard.

The body of Senior Airman Roger Fortson returns to Atlanta via Air Force dignified transfer at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Fortson, a 23-year-old active-duty Senior Airman, was fatally shot by a Florida Sheriff’s Deputy on May 3. (Natrice Miller/ AJC)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

In an op-ed for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bryant described Fortson as a brilliant young man who rose to the rank of senior airman and was a leader among the troops at Hurlburt Field, where he was stationed.

Bryant, who delivered Freddie Gray’s eulogy in 2015, said speaking at Fortson’s funeral service will be “de ja vu all over again.”

He called the fatal shooting “a dark moment for our history.”

“I could say many great things about Roger, described as a doting older brother and his mother’s dream, and all that he accomplished in his 23 years of life, but if allowed to let my humanness eclipse my pastoral assignment for a few moments, I would tell you that I’m just an angry Black man and there ain’t no way I can sit here and be silent,” Bryant wrote.

“The hard truth is that in the United States of America, whether you’re a corner boy on a bike in Baltimore City or a decorated airman in the U.S. Air Force, you’re equally susceptible to fall at the hands of law enforcement.”