MILWAUKEE — A well-known Black businessman and supporter of President Trump was gunned down in broad daylight last week outside his Milwaukee shop. Police are now asking for the public’s help in catching his killer.
Bernell “Ras” Trammell, 60, was shot and killed just after 12:30 p.m. July 23 in the 900 block of East Wright Street, according to police. A neighbor told WTMJ in Milwaukee that they heard several gunshots.
Trammell was sitting in a lawn chair outside his shop when he was killed, said the neighbor, who declined to be identified.
Investigators on Monday released security camera images of a suspect in the case. They emphasized that, despite immense speculation on why Trammell was slain, the motive for his killing has not been determined.
“The suspect is described as a male in his 30s, 6 feet, 200 pounds, last seen wearing a white and red baseball cap, a black mask covering the lower portion of his face, a black and red long sleeve shirt with white writing on the front, white or light-colored pants, black socks and white shoes,” police officials said in a statement. “The suspect’s mode of transportation was a black bicycle.
“This incident is still under investigation and the motive of this homicide is still under determination.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Trammell’s death has prompted a social media outpouring from people demanding a thorough investigation of who shot the businessman, who was known for his political activism and religious preaching. A follower of Rastafarianism, his nickname was “Ras,” short for the Rastafarian, according to the newspaper.
As a Black man, Trammell’s support for Trump was unusual. A June Washington Post-Ipsos poll found that just 5% of Black registered voters support the president.
On the flip side of his beliefs, Trammell was also a vocal proponent of the Black Lives Matter movement and a supporter of Democratic state Sen. Lena Taylor’s campaign to become Milwaukee mayor.
Handmade signs in the windows of his business, the small publication eXpressions Journal, touted his religious and social justice beliefs, as well as his support of Trump’s reelection bid.
Pia Lombardi, a longtime friend of Trammell’s, mourned his death during a memorial gathering outside his business over the weekend.
“He had a right to have a voice, and he was so strong to do it alone,” Lombardi told WTMJ.
Black Lives Matter activist Vaun Mayes, who organized Sunday’s vigil for Trammell, described him as a “community elder and beloved figure.” Photos Mayes posted on Facebook show Trammell standing on street corners with his political signs.
“We shouldn’t have to say this, but we will for those in the back with questions. ALL Black lives matter,” Mayes wrote. “We will not allow anyone’s death to be used to discredit the movement by ANY side. Trump sign or not, he was a Black man in Milwaukee and free to believe and represent whatever he wanted.”
Neighbor Kevan Penvose wrote on Facebook the day of the killing that he was still in shock over the shooting, which he heard from his dining room.
“Ras Bernell Trammell was a man with whom I hardly ever agreed about anything he wrote on his signs, but also, as a Rasta street preacher, he was one of the people that make my neighborhood so uniquely wonderful,” Penvose wrote. “Peace and light, Ras Bernell.”
Adebesi Agoro, owner of TheGodDegree.com, found Trammell’s political views intriguing. Agoro interviewed Trammell for his website just hours before he was slain.
“I haven’t seen him in the public with a pro-Trump sign ever, so I got curious,” Agoro told the news station. “I gave the man a floor, a misunderstood character the floor, to speak his opinion, and that’s what I told him.”
In the video, Trammell explained that he believed Trump was a “sign of the times.” He said Trump did what no other president had done before – bring a female descendant of slaves into the White House to serve on his team.
Trammell identified that woman as reality show star Omarosa Manigault Newman, who served as a Trump aide.
Watch Trammell’s final interview with TheGodDegree.com below.
Trump’s actions “show(ed) the whole world that the Afro-American woman, a descendant of the slaves, has the intelligence to run his cabinet,” Trammell said.
Trammell cited Trump’s sit-down with rapper Kanye West as another reason for his support.
Agoro wrote in a post on his site that he was busy uploading the videos he’d shot of Trammell when he learned the man had been fatally shot.
“He was murdered right outside of his shop where we were just speaking,” Agoro wrote. “His home. Seemingly, these were his last words.”
A wide array of people, from friends to high-profile politicians in Wisconsin, are seeking a thorough investigation of Trammell’s death, which has made national headlines because of his support for Trump.
“Bernell Trammell was known to many in Milwaukee,” state Sen. Ron Johnson tweeted. “My condolences to his family and friends. I hope they get answers and justice soon.”
Andrew Hitt, chair of the Wisconsin GOP, issued a statement Monday demanding that federal, state and local officials ensure that investigators are able to conduct a proper probe of the shooting and the motivation behind it.
“With the general election 99 days away and a primary in two weeks, it is imperative that the community knows if Mr. Trammell’s murder was politically motivated,” Hitt said. “Wisconsin voters, and especially campaign volunteers, deserve to know if they are safe while exercising their First Amendment rights. Federal, state and local officials need to do everything in their power to ensure local law enforcement has the support and resources they need to get answers for Bernell Trammell’s family, friends and neighbors.
“No matter if Trammell’s senseless murder was politically motivated or not, officials in Milwaukee, Gov. Tony Evers, Attorney General (Josh) Kaul and Mayor Tom Barrett need to do everything they can to ensure the personal safety of their citizens.”
Hitt has since appeared on Fox News to discuss Trammell’s death.
Penvose called out Hitt and other GOP officials who he said are trying to use Trammell’s death to divide the community. He said there is “scant evidence beyond speculation” that his politics had anything to do with his killing.
“At the community vigil today, I didn’t see any of these GOP officials who are now trying to use my neighbor’s tragic death as a wedge issue,” Penvose wrote on Facebook. “But Black community leaders were there to pay respects to the man known as Ras and Halo, because Black Lives Matter means All Black Lives Matter, which has nothing to do with partisanship as we strive for justice in unity.
“Please simply honor the man’s life and extend sympathies to those who mourn.”
Taylor, who on Sunday visited a memorial that had been erected near Trammell’s shop, told the Journal Sentinel she’d heard from several supporters concerned about the fact that Trammell supported Trump even as he supported her campaign for mayor.
“They were like, ‘Are you going to do something about this?’ And I was, like, ‘I can’t tell the man who to support. I’m just glad he supports me,’” Taylor told the newspaper. “And literally, when I tell you he was out every day doing that – it was huge.”
Taylor said she would be disturbed to learn that the person who killed Trammell did so because of his political beliefs.
“I may not support someone’s opinion or their politics, but I support their right to support whoever they want and, more than anything, to say whatever they want,” she said.
Anyone with information about Trammell’s homicide is asked to call Milwaukee police at 414-935-7360 or Milwaukee Crime Stoppers at 414-224-TIPS, where their tip can lead to a cash reward.