Opinion

Opinion

Deaths of blacks in custody raise questions

August 19, 2012

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What happened to Chavis Carter?

It is a pregnant question, potentially even an explosive one. Carter died of a gunshot wound to the temple on the last Saturday in July, but the question about his death has only grown louder and more urgent since then. It is beginning to gather national attention. So we need an answer soon, either so that suspicions can be put to rest and some imperfect peace achieved, or so that suspicions can be validated and some equally imperfect justice sought. The problem is, there are two possible answers to the question, and neither one of them makes much sense.

What happened to Chavis Carter?

The official story is that the 21-year-old African-American man was with two other people when they were detained by police in Jonesboro, Ark. The other two were released, but when the officers searched Carter, they found marijuana. He also had an outstanding warrant. So they searched him again, handcuffed him and put him in the back of their car. As police were preparing to leave, they smelled smoke. They opened the car and found Carter slumped over, covered in blood, dying from a bullet wound to his temple.

The police say he committed suicide.

Last week, the department released a video purporting to show how a man handcuffed in a backseat could shoot himself. The explanation might be easier to buy if the man’s name was Houdini, but even if you accept the possibility, it doesn’t answer all the questions this episode raises.

How do police search a man twice, find a baggie of pot, but miss something as obvious as a handgun? How did Carter, whose mother says he was left-handed, shoot himself in his right temple? Why would he do it?

Of course, the other theory — that police killed him — raises its own questions.

If you were going to kill a suspect, would you do it while he was handcuffed in the back of your own car? Wouldn’t you concoct a more plausible scenario? And again, why?

This encounter would have been nothing new for either the police or Carter. What could have made either of them cross that line?

Police Chief Michael Yates admitted to CNN that his officers’ story was “definitely bizarre and it defies logic at first glance.” But he said it was corroborated by a dash cam and by witnesses. Neither the footage nor the witness accounts have, at this writing, been made public. They should be. Meantime, the FBI is investigating, which is a welcome development.

One hopes authoritative answers will soon follow. Because for African-Americans, the abiding fear is that this is just the latest installment of a sordid narrative that ties Chavis Carter to Rodney King, beaten nearly to death by police on a street in Los Angeles.

And Abner Louima sodomized with a stick at a police station in Brooklyn.

And Amadou Diallo shot at 41 times by police while reaching for his wallet in a vestibule in the Bronx.

And Arthur McDuffie, dying of police-administered skull fractures at a hospital in Miami.

And Sean Bell in Queens and Oscar Grant in Oakland and Kenneth Chamberlain in White Plains and Kathryn Johnston in Atlanta and Jeffrey Gilbert in suburban Washington and Henry Glover in New Orleans and all the other African-Americans wrongly, disproportionately brutalized and killed over the years by police who seem to equate melanin with the forfeiture of basic human rights.

That pattern of misbehavior degrades a critical tool of effective police work: the public’s trust. Which comes back to bite them — and us — when authorities are put in the position, as they have been in Jonesboro, of asking for the benefit of the doubt.

They must understand that that narrative casts a long shadow. So there is one hell of a lot of doubt.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.

Comments

observant 3 years ago

Will be quite a day on this thread once the racist right wingers wake up.

grammaddy 3 years ago

Wait for it.... I'm popping corn, care for a soda?

beatrice 3 years ago

Are you saying racism no long exists? If it still exists, why should anyone be finished with discussing race issues? Why does it make you so uncomfortable to discuss racism in America?

weeslicket 3 years ago

according to larrynative and falsehope, police brutalize and murder people of many different skin colors.

from the article: That pattern of misbehavior degrades a critical tool of effective police work: the public’s trust. Which comes back to bite them — and us — when authorities are put in the position, as they have been in Jonesboro, of asking for the benefit of the doubt.

glad you fellows cleared up that trust issue for us.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years ago

Says the poster who kneejerks to every Pitts article.

jaywalker 3 years ago

Says the poster who kneejerks to every comment I make. Kinda like a bell ringin', hey Pavolv?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years ago

Reality is the converse-- not that you have enough grasp of reality to acknowledge it.

Flap Doodle 3 years ago

There appear to be larger issues confronting the Black community. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/homicide/race.cfm The data is a few years old. Looks like DOJ hasn't updated this lately.

jhawkinsf 3 years ago

Pitts is having difficulty seeing the forest because all those damn trees are in the way.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years ago

What does that mean? What forest? What trees?

jhawkinsf 3 years ago

What forest? "The" forest.

What trees? "The" trees.

Who trolls? "You" trolls. Good morning, Bozo.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years ago

You make a(n apparently) pointless post, I ask you for clarification, and then you call me a troll? That's rich.

jhawkinsf 3 years ago

"You can't see the forest for the trees" is a very old, very common expression. Google it and it is explained many times over. I assumed everyone knew I was not speaking of a specific forest and not of specific trees. So your question asking about "what forest" and "what tress" struck me as pointless. I actually thought you were attempting to be funny. Was I wrong?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years ago

OK, it was a meaningless post. That's all the clarification I need.

jhawkinsf 3 years ago

Just because "you" don't get it doesn't make it meaningless.

Have a nice day, Bozo.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years ago

What I "get" is that there was apparently nothing to get-- at least not that you could put into words with actual meaning.

My day looks to be a very nice one. Hope yours is as well.

Mike Ford 3 years ago

gotland....man you sure sound like an old school southern paternalist speaking about minorities.....it must be easy to speak as an authority about other cultures when all you're fed is stereotypes.....who feeds you these stereotypes.... it couldn't be faux news could it.......or better yet all of those misspoken tea party or gop activists who backpeddle when the light is shown on their ignorance....naw.....

Leslie Swearingen 3 years ago

People learn to be racists from family and friends. People are suffering all over the world because of racism and religious intolerance or hating someone because they belong to the wrong tribe as is the case in Africa. We must not shy away from these issues and questions because they make us uncomfortable or we think it isn't nice to talk about things like that. Some secrets should not be kept.

beatrice 3 years ago

I could tell just from the headline that this wasn't a Cal Thomas article.

jhawkinsf 3 years ago

Quite right. We all know what to expect from Cal and with equal clarity, we all know what to expect from Leonard.

voevoda 3 years ago

You'd rather live in a society without any police at all? Most of the rest of us--Leonard Pitts included--would prefer to live in a society where the police protect us and don't abuse the authority We the People have delegated to them.

voevoda 3 years ago

Well, Liberty_One, your statement in the context of Leonard Pitts' article suggests that you regard the police as the instrument of a government that is out to get the citizens. If that isn't what you mean, you certainly can clarify. However, instead you decide to be unpleasant about it. Ordinarily, when people claim to be too smart to explain and that their listeners aren't intelligent enough to understand, the opposite is true: the former don't know what they're talking about, and the latter understand all too well.

Leslie Swearingen 3 years ago

Love the video, totally, spot on, The man is right, we do have free speech and should use it and not be intimidated into silence by the bigots, whatever kind of bigot they may be. Thank you, much.

JackMcKee 3 years ago

If you don't want to be subjected to the penal system, don't commit crimes. This seems like a pretty simple equation.

JackMcKee 3 years ago

Right. I doubt that there are very many random, innocent people in jail.

JackMcKee 3 years ago

If you end up in jail it's because you either 1. committed a crime or 2. you made some really bad decisions on who you associated with. It's exceedingly rare that a truly innocent person ends up in jail. Are there really any innocent people anyway? Just about everyone has done something that would be a crime if they were caught. In fact, I'd bet there are only a few truly innocent people over the age of 18 on earth at any given moment.

Mike Ford 3 years ago

why not start with the southern planters acting like modern gop and tea partiers wanting one segment of the population to shoulder the burden with little in return just like the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole people whose lands were confiscated and the free African labor that benefitted the beginnings of this colonial occupation. Why not got back to slavery, Jim Crow, Separate but Equal (laugh), Homer V Plessy and all of that. It's so easy for the clueless straw arguement people like the one above and quoting the faux misinformation because every other uneducated simpleton agrees with them in principle. Gotta love segments of this country where facts take a back seat to emotion and fiction.

jhawkinsf 3 years ago

KansasConscience, When you say that there is an expectation of protection under the law, I assume you're speaking about equal protection and along with that a presumption of innocence. But by implication, there seems to be some suggesting that there was wrongdoing on the part of the police. Maybe, maybe not. May I also assume that while you're advocating for a presumption of innocence for the young man in the back of the police car, you're also advocating for that same presumption for the police?

jaywalker 3 years ago

Yo, Conscience, you can stuff the "Faux news" jibe. The quote came from a post that has since been deleted.

Mike Ford 3 years ago

ignore my comment land? learn anything land? know everything already because faux network told you so gotland?

Flap Doodle 3 years ago

Don't get so inflamed, tuschie. Learn how to use a comma, tuschie. Everything isn't about your favorite hate, tuschie. (from a source)

Leslie Swearingen 3 years ago

The man is telling the truth, a truth we all should be thinking about, so why do you want to humiliate him? Because he is a Native American who is not afraid to speak out?

jhawkinsf 3 years ago

Does the Carter family deserve answers? Well, they deserve whatever information is available. But if the final determination is undetermined, then that's all they're entitled to.

I certainly have no problem with questions being asked. And I certainly hope the truth comes out. Then again, the truth may already be out there. I don't know, but some seem to be implying that the truth has not yet been told. Maybe it has. Maybe not. We should be open to either possibility.

tdiddy 3 years ago

Jhawkinsf- What is YOUR forthdrawn conclusion? Tell us your opinion!! What do YOU think happen in all those cases that Pitts listed. Equal justice? How about the fact that those who are to protect and serve, missed the memo that they should ALSO PROTECT a person from themselves. Think about that one....

voevoda 3 years ago

How much longer? Until people stop complaining when they turn attention to the mistreatment of persons of color, as though it's illegitimate to notice when it happens.

Leslie Swearingen 3 years ago

My daughter and granddaughter are both of mixed race and I am terrified that something like this could happen to one of them, for no other reason than the color of their skin. The subject is not academic to me, it is very personal.

tdiddy 3 years ago

Gotland- What do YOU think she should be worried about?! Wait-for-it!!!

Mike Ford 3 years ago

quotations used by a simpleton.....priceless....

tdiddy 3 years ago

Intelligence looks into problem and finds solutions. Ignorance looks away and ignores the problem!

Armstrong 3 years ago

I hate to rain on the "you're a racist" gang but any death while someone is in custody raises questions regardless of color, sex, .... Those questions are sometimes called an investigation and not only the dead are investigated but the people associated with that former person are investigated too. Yes it's Lenny playing the race card - agian and again and agian and....

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