On May 27, Cadillac Pawn owner John Rieple fatally shot Calvin Horton Jr.
It was two days after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and the city was still in flames. Rieple was arrested that night, held for a few days, and released, pending further investigation.
On July 21, Horton’s family gathered outside the East Lake Street pawn shop to demand justice. The day would have been Horton’s 44th birthday.
“Calvin Lewis Horton was my son, I gave birth to him,” said Mae Roberts. She says repeated calls and attempts to find information have gone unanswered. As for whether that investigation is in fact ongoing, Horton’s family is skeptical.
“He meant a lot to the family,” Roberts said. “This shouldn’t be. The only thing I want is justice.”
“We’re absolutely heartbroken at the fact that the man who was able to shoot my dad … is still free,” said Horton’s daughter Cadaezhah Horton, through tears. “And we’re left to feel as if we’re the ones in prison.”
Cadaezhah Horton was joined by several siblings, including the youngest—twin eight-year-old boys. Also in attendance: the family’s increasingly robust legal representation.
“We are here to declare that Calvin Horton’s life matters,” said attorney Ben Crump, and the assembled crowd chanted in agreement.
Crump says social media video shows Rieple was inside Cadillac Pawn when he shot into the crowd; Horton could have been any other protestor out there that night. The family also disputes the Hennepin County Medical Examiner findings that Horton died of shotgun wounds to “the chest and upper extremities,” saying the video shows Rieple shooting Horton in the back.
Earlier Tuesday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman's office released a request asking for assistance from the public in building a case against Rieple. According to Freeman's statement, investigators have not found surveillance video of the shooting, and “only one witness who saw part of the shooting” has spoken to authorities.
The family wants to know why there hasn’t been due process, why there’s been no thorough investigation, why there have been no charges.
“This is a precedent-setting matter,” said Crump. “I mean, there are protests going on all over America, and if we allow business owners to shoot Black people who are protesting for Black Lives Matter, then what kind of message are we sending to the world?”
Speakers decried the dual “justice” system that treats white Americans one way, Black Americans another. “They didn't shoot rubber bullets at them. They didn’t shoot tear gas at them,” Crump said of the people who expressed their First Amendment right to protest COVID closures—while armed. “You cannot have a different set of rules when Calvin Horton is marching with the protestors for justice for George Floyd.”
“As African Americans living here, we have tried to tell the public … that we have two different social justice systems—one for Black people, one for white people, both separate and unequal,” added lawyer and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong, calling into question Minneapolis’s reputation as a progressive enclave.
Armstrong referred to the case of George Reeves, a white man from Champlin who drove his van into a north Minneapolis bus shelter last year, and was determined incompetent to stand trial. To Armstrong, the county's light treatment of Reeves, who used his vehicle as a weapon against Black victims, shows Freeman is not only incompetent, but racist.
She called on Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison to hold him accountable.
It’s possible accountability might start with the introduction of Crump—who’s also the attorney representing most of George Floyd's family members.
Jeff Storms, another of the lawyers representing the family, said it was "interesting" Freeman had only just requested help from the public on building a case. "When you talk about two sets of rules applying, why does it take Ben Crump coming to town and demanding answers in Minneapolis before the county attorney asks for help?”
And why, Strong added, if it’s so very clear Horton was shot in the front, do they need to ask for help at all?
“If this man could’ve been exonerated, he would have been exonerated,” Strong said.
Crump says that the city was right to march and call for justice after George Floyd’s murder. But it’s as though Calvin Horton—thought, until another body was discovered Monday, to be the only person killed during the protests—has been lost, a forgotten man.
He concluded the press conference Tuesday by inviting those assembled to sing “Happy Birthday.”
“Let’s sing so Calvin can hear us.”