Shapearl Wells’s son Courtney Copeland, then 22, was shot and killed near a Chicago police station in 2016

By Morgan Smith
June 08, 2020 11:26 AM
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Shapearl Wells

The sudden, violent death of Shapearl Wells' son, Courtney Copeland, still shakes her to her core.

In the early hours of March 4, 2016, Copeland, 22, was blocks away from his girlfriend’s house in Chicago when a bullet flew through the driver’s side of his BMW, striking him in the back, according to the Chicago Tribune.

He managed to drive to a nearby police station, where he flagged down an officer for help. Less than an hour later, he was pronounced dead at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center.

Questions still surround Copeland’s death, including who shot him and why — and what happened at the police station in the moments before an ambulance was summoned. There was no blood found in Copeland's car, the Intercept reports, and an E.R. nurse claimed Copeland was brought to the hospital in handcuffs. The city also initially refused to release surveillance footage showing Courtney at the police station.

Somebody, a new podcast released on March 31 on iHeartRadio and other services, follows Wells’s quest for answers from Chicago police.

Topic Studios

Wells, 47, alongside journalist Alison Flowers and others at the Invisible Institute, a small investigative journalism studio in Chicago, digs deep into her son’s murder, re-visiting his final moments, uncovering new evidence and calling for stronger police accountability in Chicago.

On the podcast, Wells and Flowers speak with various authorities who worked on Copeland’s case, as well as witnesses from the night he died and social justice activists. The show also pulls archival audio from Copeland’s phone and social media.

“As graphic, painful, and hard as it is for people to see what happened to Courtney, I owe it to Courtney to let the world know what he endured,” Wells tells PEOPLE. “I want them to understand the trauma that my son experienced in the final moments of his life.”

Wells describes her late son as a “happy, giving” person who was friends with everyone — including Grammy-winning musician Chance the Rapper. The pair both attended high school at Jones College Prep, where Copeland was a star basketball player.

“He was just a good dude, a funny dude … just realizing that somebody had taken him … it was hard for me to deal with,” Chance recalls on the Somebody podcast.

Copeland’s death speaks to a larger trend of unsolved murders in Chicago. Data obtained by WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR news station, shows that police have been solving about 4 of every 10 murders in the city over the past few years — a rate that’s lower when the victim is African American.

For the city’s 849 murders between the beginning of 2018 and July 2019, 47% of the cases with white victims were solved during that time period. However, if the victim was African American, that clearance rate was less than 22%.

No one has been charged in Copeland’s death. Chicago police have reclassified the killing as a cold case and continue to mention it on their social media, according to the Chicago Reader.

Wells sees parallels between Copeland’s case and that of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a white police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck.

“When I see George Floyd, it takes me back to day one, because he was essentially begging like my son was begging for someone to help him,” Wells says.

Wells continues: “They don’t see black men as human. This analogy from centuries ago that black people are three-fifths of a human being is still present in society today, and it was present in 2016 when Courtney died.”

Wells says she hopes Somebody helps facilitate conversations about racial inequity and police brutality.

“We have so much more work that we have to do,” she says. “I hope that everybody joins me in this effort for change, for us to be able to change the narrative ... so it never has to happen to another Courtney again.”

Somebody is a co-production of the Invisible Institute, Topic Studios, and The Intercept, in association with Tenderfoot TV. Listen to all the episodes here.

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

  • Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
  • ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.
  • National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.