Jimmy McMillan murder case in Belle Glade causes some to raise race issues

— The quick capture of the suspect in the murder of a beloved grocer last week has some in this Glades city seeing it as a black-and-white issue.

Within hours of authorities identifying the man who killed Jimmy McMillan, one question arose.

What about the other murders? The ones from last year and the year before and even longer ago that didn't attract a $25,000 reward and headline press coverage. The ones that never were solved and involved mostly black victims.

Less than one week after he shot and killed McMillan, Corey Graham Jr. was charged with first-degree murder, aggravated assault and armed robbery, all with a firearm.

"Obviously law enforcement and the community wanted this guy badly," Belle Glade resident William Walker, 38, said Monday.

Graham, a black 19-year-old from Belle Glade with no prior arrest record, is accused of robbing the Alabama Georgia Grocery Store during the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 2, police said, shooting McMillan, who died the same day.

McMillan, who was white, ran the store that his family had owned for decades in the predominantly black neighborhood near Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Blacks and whites alike headed to the grocery last week to show sympathy for McMillan's death at age 49.

"There certainly have been other people killed in our community, and there has not been as much publicity," said Karis Engle, 42, executive director of the Glades Initiative and a Belle Glade resident for two decades. "If the other people killed weren't good people, maybe that's why such a big deal was made about his case. "

But, Engle said, the perception is that law enforcement pushed harder on the case because McMillan was white.

"Look at all the other murders that's happened and not one coin was put up," Billy Wade, 36, said outside Taylor Smith & West Funeral Home on Martin Luther King Boulevard. "Now they want to put money out because of the color of the skin."

Race had nothing to do with the hefty reward Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office offered for information leading to the capture of the killer, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said Monday.

"It was a matter of we don't have an eyewitness," Bradshaw said. "We have to generate a way for people to come forward."

Most murder cases in Belle Glade do have eyewitnesses, Bradshaw said, stressing that the killings are gang-related - and people who know about them stay mum.

"You have people standing right there that saw the whole thing that refused to cooperate with us," he said. "They know who did it. They just didn't want to get involved."

He hasn't sidelined investigation of gang killings, Bradshaw assured. He invests hundreds of thousands of dollars of resources toward those crimes, money the Glades cities "don't even come close to paying in their contracts" with his department, he said.

And his department consistently offers rewards through Crime Stoppers.

Rewards beyond that, like in the grocery murder, have been offered "a bunch of times in the past," Bradshaw said. "It's not unusual."

His department in October offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the serial rapist who has been attacking throughout the county since 2009.

No doubt, many of Belle Glade's murders are "usually just black-on-black crimes: street runners, drug-related type incidents," said Jessie Hester, 48, who was born and raised in Belle Glade. "It doesn't really garnish a high level of attention to capture those guys."

But it should, he said.

"Innocent people can get hurt," said Hester, a former Glades Central High School football coach who owns rental homes in Belle Glade. "We need to get those guys off the street. Those bullets are going to hit what they hit."

Either way, local pastors are using McMillan's death as a way to bring the community together through next Monday with evening prayer walks among places of worship.

"Join us as we lift up the name of Jesus and pray that His love will cover our city," the invitation reads.

Staff writers L.J. Margolis and Matt Porter and staff researcher Niels Heimeriks contributed to this story.

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Prayer walks

Prayer walk events in Belle Glade this week:

Today: 6 p.m., from St. John First to Mt. Zion AME.

Thursday: 6 p.m., from Mt. Zion AME to St. Paul Church of God.

Friday: 6 p.m., from St. Paul Church of God to the Loading Ramp.

Saturday and Sunday: 6 p.m. meeting at the Loading Ramp.

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