Amid the protests that followed George Floyd's murder, thirty-eight-year-old white Marine veteran Jake Gardner fatally shot James Scurlock, a twenty-two-year-old Black protestor. Two investigations of Scurlock's death followed. One, conducted by the white district attorney, concluded that Gardner had acted legally in self-defense. The second, a grand jury inquiry conducted by an African American special prosecutor, indicted Gardner for manslaughter. Days after the indictment, Gardner killed himself. The deaths gave rise to a toxic brew of misinformation, false claims, and competing political agendas. Sexton unpacks the twisting chronicle into a nuanced account of the two deaths.
It’s a stale cliché to call this country “hopelessly divided,” true as it may be. Thankfully, that’s one of Sexton’s few missteps in this book. Through dogged reporting and clear prose, The Lost Sons of Omaha elevates a made-for-social-media tragedy into a kaleidoscopic account of race, justice and urban politics, the legacy of our forever wars and the flaws of our legal system ... A searing reminder that reality can’t be reduced to a hashtag or a sound bite; it’s messy, unpredictable and resistant to easy answers.
Sexton has crafted a meticulously researched and briskly written account that deftly weaves the influences of racial injustice, economic disparity, incendiary social media and guns. It’s hard to read Lost Sons though and not feel an overwhelming sadness — not just for the loss of Scurlock and Gardner but for an America that seems to have lost its moorings — failing to embrace the multi-ethnic society that we are, succumbing to fiction presented as truth and regarding guns as our ultimate settlement.
Sexton does exemplary journalistic work not just in digging up the facts and interviewing family members and eyewitnesses, but also in exposing how the whirlwind of opinionating works against finding the truth on all sides.