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'Malik Jackson's Life Mattered Too.' Family Tells Its Side In Tony McDade Shooting

Photo of Malik Jackson surrounded by candles.
Blaise Gainey
Photo of Malik Jackson surrounded by candles.

In the weeks since a Tallahassee police officer shot and killed Tony McDade, his name has been featured alongside the likes of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd—those who have become symbols of police brutality and racial inequity. He’s also been held up as a symbol of violence against transgender people. McDade was a transgender man. Much of the media attention on McDade has ignored or downplayed that, moments before being shot by police, he killed 21-year-old Malik Jackson. Now Jackson’s family members are fighting to tell their story.

Editor's Note: This story contains language some may find disturbing or offensive. While Tony McDade identified as a transgender man and WFSU refers to him using masculine pronouns, the people who speak of him knew him as a woman, call him Natosha, his dead-name, and often use female pronouns.

“I will kill for you and you. You said you’d never leave…," Abigail Jackson is reading from text messages sent by Tony McDade to her sister, Jennifer.

Jennifer is the mother of Malik Jackson, the 21-year-old McDade stabbed and killed immediately before being shot to death by police.

"Malik was a special kid," says Abigail. "Malik loved to fish, dance, listen to music. He worked day in, and day out. He was just a good kid."

A common narrative has been that McDade was killed because of his gender identity. There’s been little mention of the fact he killed Malik before being shot and killed by police. Some people now argue, that's not relevant.

“It doesn’t matter what he did. Dylan Roof shot up an entire church and he got Burger King. We know they can take out white mass murderers…there’s no excuse," said Regina Joseph, President of the Tallahassee Community Action Committee, in response to a question about whether McDade's actions determined the outcome.

"They clearly don't have an idea of what they're protesting for," says Abigail. The dismissal of Malik's story has left her to wonder, "how can you turn a murder into a victim?"

While activists call for justice for McDade, Abigail wants justice for Malik. She believes those arguments dismiss what she feels was the real cause of McDade's and Malik's death.

Several videos taken a day prior to McDade and Malik's death, show McDade getting beat up by a group of men. Activists have pointed to that as an example of violence against transgender people. Yet Jackson says the video alone doesn't tell the full story.

McDade lived next door to her sister Jennifer, and he became upset when he overheard her speaking with a friend and outlining concerns about his actions toward her. Jackson says Jennifer was trying to distance herself from him. He sent a flurry of text messages two days before the deaths—professing love, and threatening to kill.

"The first one came at 12…the fight didn’t start until 6:20 [p.m.]. I have text messages where my sister is saying 'Really Tony? What is wrong with you, for real?"

Jackson says McDade came over to her sister’s apartment and pushed the door open. Malik was outside in the driveway in his car at the time.

“Malik stated he heard the door force open and he got out his SUV... and he said Natosha turned around to him and said, 'your M—F— Mama’. And at that time he told her, ‘you’re not going to be disrespecting my mother.'"

Jackson says Malik left, but McDade followed him out. Around the same time a cousin was driving up, and the fight ensued. Afterward, McDade would upload a nearly hour-long video to Facebook, vowing revenge on the people he says jumped him.

“It took five of you to kick and punch and have me on the ground…but you know what? Ya’ll ain’t gone look the same when them bullets touch your dome," he said.

He also threatened a shoot-out with police, saying he wasn't going to go back to prison.

Jackson says Malik was just trying to defend his mother.

Abigail Jackson says she's known Tony McDade for years. She says he and his mother Wanda moved next door to her sister Jennifer earlier this year upon his release from prison the second time. When her sister introduced her to McDade, Jackson didn't initially recognize him because he was wearing a baseball hat.

“And she took the baseball cap off, and I immediately ran back to my car and called my sister and told her, and said ‘you need to get rid of her. That’s Natosha McDade. she’s bad news.”

Jackson says she tried to warn her sister about McDade’s past.

“She used to be in the club and on the scene she was very combative. The women she dated, she’d fight them in the club. It was always a scene when she was there.”

But her sister thought McDade was "good people."

"He and I met in 2004 prior to him transitioning to a trans-man. He was then at the time known as Natosha McDade. Natosha Sherron McDade,” said Tiffany Milan. She spoke with WFSU reporter Blaise Gainey in the days after McDade was killed.

Milan and McDade dated until he was sentenced to prison the first time in 2005. When he got out, Milan says they resumed their relationship. McDade tried to find a job, but no one would hire a convicted felon. He had been prescribed medication in prison for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, Milan says, but stopped taking it. At one point, he stole her gun. She says she pleaded with him to give it back, but he refused.

“I gave her a couple days. I called her every day. I said, please don’t make me get these people involved. She said ‘you’re not going to call the police, you love me.”

Ultimately, Milan filed a stolen gun report. She says by this time, McDade’s actions toward her had become violent.

“She had already punched me in the face twice. She jumped on me and Wanda in the living room. Wanda had to pull her off me, so that was it. By that time, I was no longer communicating with her. She was no longer going to victimize me anymore. I wasn’t going to be beat up anymore.”

Milan says McDade eventually went back to old habits. He would be sent to prison again in 2010 for armed robbery.

Shortly after the shooting, WFSU interviewed multiple people who said McDade suffered from a mental illness. In its reporting, the Tallahassee Democrat identified documents from the Florida Department of Corrections showing McDade pleading for help in 2009 from a judge for his mental health.

“See, this right here is my thing. Even though she was gone for all these years…what people don’t realize is people change over the years. Some people change for the best, some people change for the worse. So the person they claim they know years ago, that was clearly not the person on the 26, 27th and the day she tore up her mother’s house. That’s not the person everyone was explaining," said Jackson.

In the days before Malik Jackson and McDade were killed, Abigail said Tony had even threatened to kill his own mother and presented text messages from McDade where he states that. Police were called the night of the fight. Jackson says she told them McDade was armed, and had made threats to kill. She says police went to McDade’s door and knocked, but no one answered.

“At that time they told us, if she comes back call us. And I told them, who would wait around for a crazy B—— with a knife and a gun…?”

After a while, officers left. In January, McDade was released after serving a 10-year prison sentence. Weeks before the killing, he’d had another run-in with police when they were called to a Circle-K in response to McDade allegedly threatening someone with a fake gun that looked real. Jackson questions why McDade was allowed to stay out of jail after both incidents.

“I just feel like they didn’t take the situation serious(ly) With her being a convicted felon, and having a knife and a gun, and because she’s a convicted felon she has no businesses with a knife and a gun.”

What Jackson wants, is for the criminal justice system to revamp the way it treats certain people. She believes, had more been done—had McDade been taken into custody, two lives could have been saved. And she hopes her nephew, Malik Jackson, won’t fade into obscurity.

“I want people to know, Malik Jackson’s life mattered.”

McDade approached Malik while he was in his car with friends, and stabbed him before running away. In information released about the case, the Tallahassee Police Department notes officers found a gun beside McDade’s body after he was shot. In court filings, attorney’s for the officer who shot McDade say as officers responded to the call about the stabbing, one of them spotted a car parked in the road, and McDade leaning in and talking to someone through a window. That person was Wanda McDade. According to the report, she jumped out of the car and ran toward officers asking for help and saying Tony was suicidal. During this time, police say McDade began walking toward the officers as well but “pivoted back towards Doe 2 [the officer] when his mother entered his would-be line of fire with the second patrol officer."

Police are not releasing body camera footage nor the name of the officer who killed McDade. They’re citing the ongoing investigation as well as a state constitutional amendment that protects the identities of crime victims. The argument—the officer who shot McDade became a victim, when McDade allegedly aimed the gun at him.

A young Malik Jackson proudly shows off an impressive catch
Abigail Jackson / Used with permission
Used with permission
A young Malik Jackson proudly shows off an impressive catch
Abigail Jackson discusses her nephew, Malik Jackson and events that led to his death
Robbie Gaffney / WFSU News
Abigail Jackson discusses her nephew, Malik Jackson and events that led to his death

Copyright 2020 WFSU

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.