Jocques Clemmons may be a familiar name to some, making headlines around the nation when the 31-year-old was gunned down by a Metro police officer on Feb. 10, 2017.
Sheila Clemmons Lee, the mother of Jocques, shares with me what a caring man he was, speaking positivity into his younger male cousins. He encouraged them to get an education and stay off the street. He loved to help his grandparents while at the farmers market on the weekends. As Sheila discovered after his death, Jocques also assisted a family member who had a child with disabilities by providing transportation to doctor's appointments and cash. He was “just that type of man,” freely giving anyone anything they needed. Jocques had a smile that matched his big heart, and not everyone could rightly interpret, including a juvenile court judge who thought he wasn’t being taken seriously. Sheila says her son was downright “jolly,” capable of making anyone's day better in a flash.
Jocques was the oldest of four children and the only son. He was the protector of his three younger sisters and single mother. While growing up, he acted out in boyish ways, "always into something," as Sheila laughs in remembering. She wondered if he was acting out for attention, but knew she couldn't just keep whipping him for it. Jocques was a curious kid, always taking something apart just to see how it worked before putting it back together. Finally, when Jocques was in the third grade, he was diagnosed with ADHD. Sheila immediately began educating herself on this new diagnosis.
In middle school, Jocques had a teacher named Mrs. Bowen, who took quite a liking to him. She ensured he stayed on his meds and patiently helped him adjust his behavior. Jocques affectionately called her his "white mama." Jocques and Mrs. Bowen stayed close. Jocques was there when she had her first child. And when he graduated from high school, he gave Mrs. Bowen pictures of himself in his cap and gown, and thanked her for being his "other mother."
You couldn't have found a bigger Dallas Cowboys fan than Jocques, who Sheila buried in a Cowboys casket. Growing up, he enjoyed playing football and Sheila at times wonders if not for her if Jocques might have lived out his dream of playing in the big leagues. But she was a single mother. Simply getting to his games was difficult.
Jocques never wanted to disappoint. As his mom’s wedding day to his step-father (Mark) approached, he first told Sheila that he couldn’t make it. But, shortly before the ceremony began, Jocques called to say he was on his way. He arrived and ran to his mother, and then she was ready to walk down the aisle.
Jocques didn’t have the advantage of having his dad in his life, so he would do literally anything for his own children. He married at age 20 and moved to Knoxville, where he had a home, good job and his first-born, Jae’vion. When the marriage ended, he moved back to Nashville. People thought he was crazy to give his ex-wife anything, but Jocques was adamant that his son be well cared for. He also went on to have a second son, Jae’suan.
Even while living in Knoxville, Jocques was protective of his mother and sisters. He made sure one of his friends, Chris, was around wherever Sheila went. After a time, Jocques let his mom know he “always had eyes on her” and the same went for his sisters.
When asked what Jocques would be doing today if he were still alive, Sheila says he would be working and providing for his family, looking after her, running off his sisters' boyfriends, and eating. Jocques loved to eat, and to this day an 11x14 picture of him hangs near the dinner table so Sheila can feel his presence at mealtime. The family is “saving a seat for him,” Sheila says. She made his favorite dessert, banana pudding, last Father’s Day.
On Memorial Day, Sheila was invited to a cookout that she almost didn't attend. When she showed up, her cousin Curtis was there and they sat together for the first time in years. They struck up a conversation. After asking how she was doing, Curtis began channeling her son, saying, "I'm Joc. I love you, Mama. I want to let you know I am happy. Quit worrying. Trust God. I'm OK, and I am happy." Sheila replied that she loved him, too. Shaped like a butterfly, Curtis’ hands made a motion as though the butterfly were flying away, and then he fell asleep. Sheila later called a friend who helped her understand what had just happened. Curtis falling asleep is when Joc's spirit left; Curtis would remember nothing. Some-time later, Sheila was able to stand in the very spot her son was killed. It had been one year and 106 days, but she now knew he was OK, so she could be OK.
Though some of her questions will never be answered, and the pain of losing a child remains, Sheila takes solace in knowing that police protocols are changing. She worked hard to make that happen so no other mother will have to endure what she has.