Jonny E. Gammage: 'This Is Us' spotlights 1995 police killing of Black driver

The season-five premiere included a scene in which Randall Pearson opens up about the first time he could remember the killing of a Black man at the hands of police.
This Is Us - Season 1
In the season premiere of "This Is Us," Randall Pearson talks to his daughter's boyfriend about the 1995 killing of Jonny E. Gammage in Pittsburgh.NBC
/ Source: TODAY

In Tuesday night’s season-five premiere episode of "This Is Us," Randall Pearson, played by Sterling K. Brown, explained the first time he could remember the killing of a Black man at the hands of police.

In a scene set in the days after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, Pearson opened up to his adopted daughter’s boyfriend, Malik.

"They say check on your strong friends, so I’m checking," Malik, played by Asante Blackk, said to Pearson.

The two talked for a moment about Floyd, who died after being pinned down by an officer who put his knee on Floyd's neck for about eight minutes, before Pearson asked the teen if he had ever heard of Jonny E. Gammage.

Gammage was a cousin of former Pittsburgh Steelers player Ray Seals and died at the hands of police on Oct. 12, 1995.

According to a report at the time by the Associated Press, Gammage died following a slow-speed police chase while driving Seals' borrowed Jaguar that ended with a fight in the Pittsburgh area. Police said Gammage resisted arrest, and officials reported he suffocated face down on the pavement after an officer used his baton and knee to put pressure on his neck and shoulders.

Gammage’s last words were "I’m only 31," according to testimony at the time of his death.

In Tuesday's "This Is Us" episode, Pearson explained he had watched the subsequent news coverage of Gammage's death alone as the only Black person in his adoptive family's Pennsylvania home.

"For a kid to be all alone with that, it was a lot," he explained.

Three of the five white officers involved were tried, but none were convicted, according to a timeline by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The newspaper reported in 1998 that Gammage’s parents settled their civil rights suit against the officers for $1.5 million.

For Seals, the death of Floyd earlier this year hit home. He told The Buffalo News amid the worldwide racial-injustice protests that his cousin was just 5 feet, 6 inches tall and had back problems.

"I’ve been through this," Seals said. "I’ve been through this whole deal."

Over the years, Seals has tried to keep his cousin’s memory alive.

"This has to stop," he told Pittsburgh magazine in September 2019. "We just can’t go on like this."