Lately it’s felt like the whole country has come together in support of death row inmate Rodney Reed, who is currently serving time for the murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites.
Civil rights activist Shaun King launched a petition on his behalf that garnered more than two million signatures, while celebrities like Oprah, Beyonce, and Kim Kardashian have all joined the chorus of those pleading with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott not to kill a man who they believe is innocent of the crime of which he has been convicted.
Initially, this seemed like a clear case of the justice system getting it wrong, and then being called out by those committed to using their platforms to create awareness.
So imagine my surprise Sunday evening when I scrolled through my Instagram feed and came across a lengthy video by Amanda Seales declaring that she was feeling remorse for supporting Reed and giving the side-eye to those in charge of his messaging.
Amanda Seales calls out Reed’s supporters
In an IGTV video titled “What I wish I knew before rallying for Rodney Reed” the actress writes in her caption, “In this era of add water activism it is very easy to fall for mass movements in directions of both cancelation and/or exoneration. I apologize for my error in rushing to the aid of this cause without knowledge of the full scope. I will be more mindful in the future. Be wary, be watchful, be wise. These are unseemly times.”
Then in the nine-minute clip she calls out those leading the charge in Reed’s case for lies of omission that paint a skewed picture of a man who is not the sympathetic character we’ve all been lead to believe he was.
“The campaign to stay the execution of Rodney Reed and exonerate him was launched by supporters of Rodney Reed who believe him to be innocent of the murder of Stacey Stites,” Seales begins. “This, I’m going to call it propaganda though, was presented to people like you and me with a very decisive, clear-cut intention to not include the entire bigger picture of Rodney Reed as he presents as a criminal and danger to women.”
Now this intro is important because it weaponizes two phrases that all advocates and activists respond strongly to, which are “propaganda” and “danger to women.” Once I heard those words I sat up in attention and resolved myself to hear her out.
“It feels very duplicitous that those who were pushing for this, not just his family, but individuals who fancy themselves activists were doing so with the knowledge that this person, Rodney Reed, is not just accused of, but has been linked to previous rapes via his DNA being discovered within the victim. He has been ID’d by a woman who escaped him,” she continued.
“So you’re asking yourselves, ‘Well, why wasn’t he convicted of those?’ Well, three of those cases did not go to trial because he had already been convicted of capital punishment. So essentially he was already on death row, so they didn’t bother to try these other cases? Now I don’t know if you’re like me; I’m like, ‘Well, why does because he’s on death row mean that these other cases didn’t deserve justice?’ That is another mystery of our justice system.”
Seales then goes on to list how Reed has been accused of raping women in the past (one of which was a 12-year-old girl) and how what alarms her most is that his supporters, “thought this was not pertinent information that needed to be included in their assertion to the masses that we should rally behind this person.”
“These are not things that I feel like you can overlook and there are people who pushed this cause in front of people like you and me and now I feel like a d**k because I also carry this narrative through, thinking I had done research when really I had simply just been presented with very skewed propaganda.”
The video ends with Amanda stating, “I wholly regret lending my name in the defense of this man’s freedom from the death penalty,” and imploring people to be mindful about who they trust.
What she got right
Now I’m aware that Amanda Seales has suffered a fall from grace recently and is just barely coming out of the public backlash in one piece. In a recent interview with her friends over at The Breakfast Club, she even touched on how emotionally taxing it has been to be condemned in the court of public opinion.
But even if you don’t care for her personally, we all have to admit she’s an intelligent woman who seems to pride herself on being an advocate for Black people. So for her to stick her neck out and go against the grain like this, I felt it at least warranted me looking into her allegations.
And since the caption in her video ended with the note, “Links to everything I reference are in my IG story and available online,” it was easy enough to go directly to the sources that had her so up in arms.
The first was a YouTube video which I have to admit was a compelling opus against Reed and those who believe in his innocence. Like Seales recounted, he did in fact get accused of assaulting other women including a minor. And watching one of his alleged victims speak about the day he tried to rape her and the similarities between her case and that of Stites felt very damning.
By the end of that clip (and after checking the facts presented) I walked away thinking that I could see why Amanda feels like this man may be a danger to women.
But here’s the thing y’all, at the very least there are often three sides to a story (yours, theirs and the objective truth). So instead of letting one 14 minute video convince me of a Black man’s guilt, I did what I fear Seales didn’t do and actually kept digging.
What she missed
Can you imagine if you were witnessing a high stakes court case where the prosecution went up, presented their side and then the jury was asked to come to a verdict without hearing what the defense had to say?
Well, thats what it appears happened after Seales watched and read those pieces against Reed, because within just a half hour of seeing her side, I was able to quite easily come back to why he still received (and objectively deserved) so much support in the specific case in which he was convicted.
First off, let’s start with the fact that the entire case against Reed is based on two things: the timeline provided by Stacey Stites’ police officer boyfriend Jimmy Fennell — who a lot of people believe to be the actual killer — and the semen found on Stacey Stites that belongs to Reed.
Now, Reed may be no boy scout, but to be clear neither was Jimmy Fennell. What Fennell was though, was a hotheaded policeman who in 2007 was convicted of kidnapping and sexual misconduct against a woman who was in his custody.
From the jump, Fennell’s actions alone paint a picture of a crooked cop who was emboldened to let another man get framed for a crime he may have committed.
First of all, does the timeline that the DA presents prove Fennell couldn’t have done it? Well that’s been disputed by medical experts who say Stites was most likely killed nine hours earlier than originally believed meaning Fennell had ample time to kill his fiancée.
Not to mention, a witness came forward to say that Fennell once told him that if he ever caught his girl cheating on him he’d strangle her with a belt — which just happens to be what happened to the victim.
Add to that other compelling evidence like, how despite the fact that the couple’s apartment was the last place she was seen alive, Fennell’s law enforcement friends completely neglected to search the home for evidence.
Speaking of law enforcement, it turns out that several other cops have had suspicions about Fennell’s guilt as well. And this is the part where I encourage you all to take out your pens and look up every single name I bring up.
First up we have officer Joe Bryant who wasn’t officially on the Reed case but had suspicions about the killer that lead him to look into it on his own. Soon after his independent probe began though, Bryant was randomly killed by a Mexican migrant worker.
His wife, Marie Bryant came forward to say that before her husband passed, he told her that his investigation led him to believe Fennell was the killer. And Maria says she wasn’t surprised.
Then there’s officer Ed Salmela who was one of the first people at the scene of the crime. Just four months after he became involved with the case he was found dead from what appeared to be a self inflicted gun shot wound.
But here’s the problem with that determination, Salmela was shot with his left hand even though he was actually right handed. Which is hella suspicious given people attempting suicide almost always shoot themselves with their dominant hand.
However, his brother Scott Salmela says that despite being right handed (and only shooting with his right hand) Ed often shook hands with his left hand. Which means if someone who knew him in passing (like a fellow officer) was attempting to stage a suicide, they might mistake his handshake for indication that he was left handed.
Scott also points out that Ed was a notorious neat freak, yet when they went to his apartment, it had been ransacked. His guns, computers and hard drives were all gone as if someone was attempting to frame him for suicide and taken any incriminating evidence he had with them.
And let’s not forget the unidentified officer who on the day of Stites funeral heard Fennell whisper to her dead body, “You got what you deserved.” Or the inmate who served time with Fennell during his kidnapping sentence who says he flat out confessed to the murder to him.
A convicted crooked cop, with a history of sexual misconduct, who people have heard verbally admit to the crime and who threatened to kill his girlfriend if she cheated on him, sounds like enough “reasonable doubt” to warrant a new trial, pham.
Especially when the Black man who she allegedly was having the aforementioned affair with is now sitting on death row.
This video is the single most important video you could ever watch about Rodney Reed.
— Shaun King (@shaunking) November 14, 2019
What we can all learn
I suspect what happened here is that Amanda Seales found out Rodney Reed wasn’t a saint, and may have even been guilty of sexual misconduct in his past, and then immediately lost all ability to root for his civil rights after that.
What she had was an understandable emotional reaction. But emotions and facts are two very different things, and luckily for us the system is supposed to acknowledge that.
How many times has an unarmed Black person been killed by the police and the first thing we do is read off the highlight reel of all their accomplishments? We state that they were class valedictorian, point out how respectful they were at church and then throw in whatever awards they received for feeding the homeless or helping old ladies across the street.
While I get the need to lift up those we have lost, the message that unintentionally sends is that only unblemished, unproblematic Black people deserve the same due process and justice that their messy white counterparts get all the time. And that “magical negro” requirement is dangerous.
Was Rodney Reed a potential serial offender in a former life? Possibly. That would be up for a court to decide based on evidence. But if Dylann Roof can shoot up all those innocent people at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, and still get lunch at Burger King on his way to a fair trial, at the very least Rodney Reed deserves the same.
A justice system that requires purity as a pre-requisite for someone’s humanity to be honored, isn’t just at all. Ironically, the counterpoints presented by Seales in her scathing video this weekend just made me even more aware of why messy cases like this one, are exactly the kind of ones we need to be examining in order to create the prison reform we all say we need.
If you only root for a certain type of Black person you aren’t rooting for freedom, you’re perpetuating tokenism.
All Rodney Reed’s supporters are asking is for the brother to get a fair trial, where all the evidence is presented. How can anyone deny the merit in that? That’s not propaganda. It’s supposed to be the law.
Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric