A makeshift memorial to Dorian Harris went up near the spot where he was shot by a store clerk. ( Photo: Johnathan Martin.)
Johnathan Martin

by Johnathan Martin
Special to The New Tri-State Defender.

I first heard of Dorian Harris on April 2 when his fatal shooting at a North Memphis convenience store was broadcast as breaking news on local television stations. Right away, I flashed back to memories of growing up in South Memphis and shopping at stores where clerks clearly did not like you.

The day I got the news about Dorian’s last day was the first day of MLK50 and I’d spent several hours at the National Civil Rights Museum shooting photos for The New Tri-State Defender. About the time I thought that I’d finally get a moment to rest, I got word of protests outside the Top Stop Shop store where Dorian had been shot.

I jumped up to go document the protests, thinking that too often the victim’s story in a scenario such as this gets lost in the coverage. I rolled up on a turbulent situation. The crowd was growing unruly as local activist Keedran Franklin had just been detained by police. With the tension mounting, Keedran was released.

Local media swarmed the scene. Hoping to get sound bites, they stuck microphones in the faces of the protesters. The crowd swelled and some protesters vented their frustration over the shooting by cussing out the cameramen and news crews.

After a while, the crowd began to disperse. The Memphis Police Department brought in a sky cop to keep watch.

Thinking about what had reportedly happened to Dorian – shot by a store clerk in response to stealing a wine cooler, his family said – my gut-level read of the reaction to his shooting was that it was an instance of justified anger.

The casket bearing the remains of Dorian Harris is carried to an awaiting hearse. ( Photo: Johnathan Martin.)

The morning of April 7 dawned to frigid temperatures. Dorian’s funeral was set for Greater Calvary Baptist Church in north Memphis. I arrived early. A few members of his family and some close friends sat quietly in the sanctuary as people came in to view the body.

Some of Dorian’s friends laughed as they recounted a funny tale they’d had with him. Others burst into tears at the sight of his remains.

The funeral service started. His family filed in, with the church filled to capacity. The service focused on Dorian as he lived and the person that family, friends and supporters remembered. The family told stories of his vibrant personality, detailing when he gave his life to God last December. It was a memory that gave many of them a sense of peace.

One testimony really got to me. A woman who witnessed the shooting spoke, relaying an account of seeing the store clerk chasing Dorian, shooting at him and hearing him tell her, “I think I hit him.”

She told of looking for Dorian’s body for two days before she found him, lamenting that she had not found him alive and in time to help.

The funeral service for Dorian Harris was short, powerful and moving. (Photo: Johnathan Martin)

The service was not a long one; but it was powerful. After it was over, family members carried Dorian’s casket to an awaiting hearse.

I watched them get into their vehicles to go lay Dorian at his final resting place.

The convenience store has been shut down. One of the owners, who expressed regret that Dorian had been killed, has said keeping the store open was not a realistic option given the fear of backlash from the community.

On April 25, the store clerk who killed Dorian has a court date. I want to tell myself that this is an open-and-shut case and that justice will be served. I always hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Dorian Harris