‘My best friend was killed in the protests’

“My best friend had a big heart,” Diamond Davis says.

When the 19-year-old from Omaha, Nebraska, lost the job she had in school, her friend James Scurlock was there for her.

James’s family let her move in with them, meaning she avoided becoming homeless.

“When his family took me in, I knew that he was going to be more than just a friend to me,” Diamond tells Radio 1 Newsbeat. “I knew he would be like a brother.”

Diamond, and James, who was 22, were neighbours.

They met by the swimming pool of their apartment complex in 2018.

James would walk her to her job and help her with homework. She still has the sketches he made in the margins of her school books.

Diamond says James, who was nicknamed “Juju”, was silly and adored by his little brothers and sisters.

He had a job as a construction worker, but stopped working to focus on looking after his seven-month old daughter. He was proud to be a father, Diamond says.

It was thinking of his baby daughter’s future that made James more politically active, according to news reports.

He started attending the Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd, who was killed in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

But after one protest on May 30, James didn’t come home.

Jacob Gardner, a white bar owner, shot and killed him in an incident that was caught on video and went viral on Twitter.

Mr Gardner had been standing outside his bar to guard it and the video shows James clinging to Mr Gardner’s back as he fired two shots into the air, then one shot behind his back, which hit James in the collarbone. James died from his injuries.

The county attorney said he wouldn’t press charges as he had concluded the bar owner was acting in self-defence.

But some eyewitnesses claim Mr Gardner and his father were threatening protesters and using racial slurs, and James was trying to protect others.

A public backlash led the county attorney to call in a grand jury – a group of citizens who decide if charges should be brought – to investigate the case. They will consider if Mr Gardner should face charges that could include manslaughter and carrying a weapon when his permit had expired.

‘We can make a change’

Omaha is Nebraska’s largest city. It’s mainly white – 77% in the last census.

Nebraskan Governor Pete Ricketts came under fire for addressing black community leaders there as “you people” during a meeting about James’ death, causing some to walk out in protest.

Diamond wasn’t there the night her friend died. She hadn’t been to the protests at all before that.

She says she knew police violence was a problem but she didn’t think of herself as politically engaged.

That changed when James was killed. “I loved James like a brother,” she says. “Losing him was a different kind of pain I never felt before.”

So Diamond broke Covid-19 quarantine guidelines to protest with her friends. “The government is against its own people,” she says. “But if the people stick together, then we can make a change in the government.”

“I’m still out here protesting,” she tells Newsbeat. “My best friend has not got his justice yet.”

James’ death is one of at least 19 in the US connected to the protests. Most were unarmed black men like him. Some died from gunshot wounds; one died when a counter-protester drove a vehicle through a crowd.

Diamond wants other young people to support Black Lives Matter and says it’s important the protests are peaceful.

“I believe that regardless of our situation, we shouldn’t be ruining our own home,” she says. “I want people to be safe doing it the right way: with non-violence.”

Diamond spoke to Newsbeat as she prepared for a party with James’s family, to commemorate him – a “Juju world” party with a poolside barbeque and a video montage. They hope it will be a tradition for years to come.

Diamond hopes that charges will be brought in his case: “I want justice for all.”

James had plans for his future. He was thinking of becoming a tattoo artist like his brother, or studying in college to be a role model for his daughter.

In the days after his death, his name trended on Twitter. Murals have been put up to honour him.

“He used to tell me that when he died, he was going to die a legend,” Diamond says of her friend, who was also an aspiring rapper.

He wanted to be famous, and a role model for his daughter. “Now my best friend is a legend,” Diamond says.

“His name will live on.”

Follow Newsbeat on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays – or listen back here.