Trammell, 60, was gunned down on July 23 near the very spot where he gave a video interview a few hours before explaining why he supported Trump. Milwaukee police are seeking what they described as “unknown suspects.” The motive is not clear, including whether or not the slaying was tied into Trammell’s political beliefs or Trump support. Some news outlets gave the victim’s name as Bernell Tremmell, but he goes by Trammell on social media.
The Wisconsin GOP is now calling for a federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney into the shooting death because of “his well known political activism and the possibility that his murder could be politically motivated,” WISN-12 reported.
Kevan Penvose wrote on Facebook that 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. Around 12:30 this afternoon I heard gunshots nearby as I was working at my dining room table. Soon after, I was reading reports on social media of a shooting around the block, at the location of this one-of-a-kind storefront that I’ve walked by a million times… Peace and light, Ras Bernell.”
Johnny Schaeffer, 45, knew Trammell for almost his entire life because his mother once dated him, and they stayed in touch over the years. “I’m devastated,” he told Heavy in a phone interview.
“I think that he was definitely misjudged,” Schaeffer said. “He had his views, you know. People were sometimes surprised not only by his thoughts but how he said it. He was bold, a big, taller man, and when he talked, people listened.”
Armstrong Ramsone (the pen name of local artist and writer Adebisi Agoro) wrote on the site The God Degree that he recorded video interviews with Trammell just hours before his death. “Earlier today he had mentioned to me ‘you wouldn’t guess the amount of hate I received from Black people,'” after holding another sign, for a former Black mayoral candidate, Ramsone wrote. Agoro became curious about Trammell’s political beliefs after seeing him at a bus stop and decided to ask “about what I saw on Facebook and why he was holding the Trump sign?”
A few days before, Agoro had seen a photo on Facebook with Trammell carrying a Trump sign throughout the community, a post that carried the label “hero.” Alongside him walked another man with an opposing sign carrying the word “sike,” which Agoro says basically means “not.” Agoro wrote that the photo caused a “stir” on the Internet days earlier so he decided to ask Trammell about it.
Agoro recorded videos of an interview he conducted the day Trammell died in which Trammell, clutching a pro Trump sign, explains his political beliefs. You can see those videos here.
“I have encouraged Afro-Americans from all walks of life and culture here in Wisconsin and particularly here in Milwaukee to vote Donald Trump for this year. Trump 2020. I believe Trump is the sign of the times,” Trammell says in one of the videos, recorded outside his publishing business near the very spot where he would be shot a few hours later. He is standing in front of a “Wisconsin Vote Donald Trump” sign in that video.
“No less than two hours after I left from filming Ras Bernell I had heard word from Facebook that…someone in the area that Ras Bernell stays in had been shot,” Ransome wrote on The God Degree. “To my surprise it was Ras Bernell. The moment I had read the news I was attempting to upload the above videos used in this post onto my laptop for use…He was murdered right outside of his shop where we were just speaking. His home. Seemingly these were his last words.”
The article is headlined “WHO SHOT THE RAS? Did Ras Bernell’s support for Donald Trump lead to his untimely death?” So far, the answer to that remains unknown. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said he also had a Black Lives Matter sign, although pictures of his storefront show it was not prominently displayed outside (his storefront contained three large Trump signs, a sign reading “Mulattos Lives Matter Wisconsin” and other signs, including messaging about his business.) Ramsone’s article also contains a picture of those and other signs belonging to Trammell and that filled his business, including one reading, “Thumb’s up…before guns up.”
Schaeffer described Trammell as “a great guy. He had his views, he had his ways, and he was set in them. He wanted everybody to believe and know what he believed, what he wanted to say.” Trammell had a newspaper and “people writing him from all over,” Schaeffer said, adding that Trammell was the oldest person on his block.
As for his Trump support, Schaeffer added: “Yeah, his Donald Trump beliefs. He was (a Trump supporter). He kind of expressed it in a way of he knows what Trump is doing for all colors. Bernell was that type. He took the overall thought of it.”
“He was a kind man,” Schaeffer added. “He was a gentle guy. Some people didn’t like what he said, but they respected him for the most part, I thought. I’d go down there, people would always say, ‘Bernell, hey.’ He knew everybody in the neighborhood. I am shocked right now.”
CBS 58 reported that Trammell was a political independent who supported candidates of different parties over the years. A memorial grew at the spot where he died in Riverwest, an area of Milwaukee known for its diversity, the television station reported, quoting a man who knew Trammell as stressing how Trammell believed in Democracy and free speech.
Ramsone called Tramell “OG Rastaman Bernel.”
“The guy was just full of love,” Dick Nelson told Fox 6 Milwaukee.
The television station spoke to Adebisi Agoro, who also told Fox 6 he spoke to Trammell that morning about politics. He’s the God Degree author who recorded the videos.
“He’s just a community figure,” Agoro told the TV station. “I respected him just because he had a position… He’s got his opinion on why he feels that way; and I’m not going to knock him.”
Agoro told Heavy: “I am not at all well acquainted with him. I just happened to serendipitously have seen him again the day before and stopped by his place after my run yesterday morning.” Agoro’s The God Degree bio reads, in part, “Like the Phoenix rising from its ashes, Milwaukee’s, Adebisi Agoro, has triumphantly risen over tragedy. After suffering an incredible loss with the untimely death of his son Summer (2018), Adebisi shed his original moniker, BLAX, as he looked ahead to the future with a new creative vision. Giving birth of Armstrong Ransome.”
Trammell was the kind of person everyone knows around a neighborhood because he was such a visible presence.
Janette Island told the station that Trammell enjoyed talking about a variety of religions, adding, “It was very deep conversations, very philosophical. He was a really great guy. He meant no harm.”
One man wrote on Facebook, “OMG. Bernell Trammell was a most interesting man, strong in his convictions to God and the Christian faith. Controversial, he was very personable to encounter. Just one of those interesting people that makes Milwaukee an interesting place to live and work in. Terrible loss here. Too many guns on the street and too many people in possession of them. This was a man of peace. God rest.”
Some of his other beliefs were controversial in addition to supporting Trump, and, thus, his life was not without conflict. A woman wrote on the God Degree article comment thread that she was “sad for his passing but know he is near the Lord. There is a lot to be learned in the dichotomy that was Bernel. I have been catching hell from people on Facebook for saying that he was my buddy and that I am sad he’s gone. Apparently he spoke out against our lgbtq citizens and one or two others said that he spoke hateful things towards the earth’s Asian population. None of us who knew him saw him as a violent or hateful man. But he had radical ideas.”
A woman who knew him wrote on Facebook,
Trammell had a YouTube page called “eXpressions Journal Publications LLC.” Videos he posted to YouTube show him standing on a street corner shouting about religion.
Schaeffer described Trammell as having Rastafarian views but added, “He developed his own style with it as well. He was very into his Rasta and reggae music that we grew up on. I can’t tell you exactly what religion he was. I don’t think he was a certain religion, I really don’t.”
He added: “He was like a wise oak tree. He talked about everything. Every race, everything going on.”
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Rastafari, also spelled Ras Tafari” is a “religious and political movement, begun in Jamaica in the 1930s and adopted by many groups around the globe, that combines Protestant Christianity, mysticism, and a pan-African political consciousness.”
In one video, Trammell said he was no longer a “beacon for interracial marriages or dating” and said he was no longer an “interracial dating Israelite.” The videos on his YouTube page date to 2018 and are about religion and the Israelites, not politics. He had some court cases over the years, including for tax issues and small claims. In 2014, a woman was granted a restraining order against him. He had a couple felony cases but they date to 1990 and the 1980s, Wisconsin court records show.
“This is heartbreaking. He did not deserve this. I am sickened by the disregard for human life in the city of Milwaukee,” a woman wrote on the God Degree comment thread.
Homicide in Milwaukee has increased dramatically in 2020, with the number of people slain doubling over last year in July.
According to a post by conservative talk show host Dan O’Donnell, Trammell was “well known in his community for standing on street corners with ‘Vote Trump’ signs.”
He was also well known for signs and preaching that carried religious message but Ramsone wrote that “lately he had been holding signs for political campaigns,” including a state legislator named Lena Taylor who launched an unsuccessful campaign for Milwaukee mayor.
O’Donnell said the shooting occurred in front of Trammell’s business, which is called Express Publications and is “covered in handmade signs,” including most prominently signs saying “Vote Donald Trump 2020,” and “Re-Elect Trump 2020.”
O’Donnell wrote that police told him that the possibility of a political motive is being investigated, but the motive is not known. “Detectives are investigating the possibility” that Trammell “was killed over his political beliefs,” O’Donnell wrote, adding that police told him the suspect drove up, shot Trammell, and then drove off.
According to O’Donnell, Trammell “spent the past few weeks advocating for Trump’s re-election in his neighborhood and in front of City Hall in downtown Milwaukee.” You can read O’Donnell’s report in full here.