(The Root) — Welcome to the Twilight Zone, where a bag of Skittles counts as a deadly weapon, and men are capable of shooting themselves in the head while handcuffed — with double locks — behind their own backs.
In 21st-century America, there is apparently no distinction between a boy holding rainbow-colored candy and a man carrying a dime bag of marijuana: All black males — criminal or otherwise — are met with violent, deadly force.
The death of Chavis Carter, a 21-year-old African-American male from Mississippi, looks like the latest in a never-ending tale of inexcusable brutality unleashed onto unarmed African-American youths.
Carter was shot dead in Jonesboro, Ark., on July 28. He had been riding with two white male passengers when they were stopped for a routine traffic violation. The driver, a 17-year-old whose identity has been withheld, and a 19-year-old, Timothy Teal, were both released.
Carter was detained after an initial frisk produced a bag of marijuana worth $10. Apparently, police conducted a name search and discovered that he had an outstanding warrant in Mississippi. (The warrant was issued in 2011 after Carter pleaded guilty to one count of selling marijuana.)
The officers claim that they searched Carter a second time before placing his hands in double-locked handcuffs — behind his back — but moments later he was found with a bullet in his head, in the rear of the officer's vehicle. Police concluded that Carter had committed suicide using a concealed weapon that they'd missed during two body searches.
Yes, you read that correctly. They claim to have found a small bag of marijuana, but missed a handgun. Twice.
The Jonesboro police chief, Michael Yates, defended the officers — who have been placed on paid administrative leave — but acknowledged that the circumstances were "bizarre" and the incident "defies logic."
For too many African-American sons, this kind of bizarre logic is commonplace in encounters with law enforcement — from the dark woods of Jonesboro, Ark., and the manicured lawns of Sanford, Fla., to the hot pavements of Chicago and New York City.
Infamous cases include that of 23-year-old Sean Bell, shot four times in the neck and torso on the night before his wedding in 2006. Leaving a New York City nightclub after his bachelor party, Bell was driving away when undercover police, they claim, heard someone yell "gun" and began shooting — a total of 50 times — killing Bell and severely injuring two other men. No weapon was ever discovered in Bell's car, and three of the five police involved in the shooting death were indicted and charged with manslaughter, reckless endangerment and assault. Yet all three officers were found not guilty, on all charges.
Kendrec McDade, an unarmed 19-year-old college student, was shot to death in Pasadena, Calif., this past March after two officers believed that he was involved in a robbery and mistakenly thought he had a weapon. McDade suffered seven bullet wounds — three of which sliced through arteries in his lower abdomen and upper right arm. The police have yet to be charged. A federal suit filed by McDade's parents claim that their son was handcuffed as he lay dying and did not receive medical assistance for a prolonged period of time.
Student athlete Trayvon Martin turned 17 just three weeks before his shooting death at the hands of a self-appointed neighborhood-watch captain, George Zimmerman. Trayvon was holding Skittles and iced tea, but police believed his killer's story: that he'd only acted in self-defense against the teenager. Zimmerman was initially released, with the murder weapon, and is currently free on bail awaiting trial.
And black females are not immune to the violence.
Rekia Boyd, a 22-year-old African-American woman, was killed in Chicago this year by Dante Servin, a white, off-duty police detective. Boyd was with a group of friends when Servin opened fire — he also claims in self-defense — against a 39-year-old African-American man named Antonio Cross, who stood adjacent to Boyd. Servin originally claimed that Cross had approached him with a gun, but an independent police review later found that no weapon was found and Cross had been holding a cellphone.
In what alternate universe do these events occur in a civil society?
Why are black youths met with deadly violence at the hands of police officers who are supposed to protect and serve them? Why are African-American boys and men, in particular, never given the dignity of victimhood? And why are the perpetrators so often allowed to go unpunished for the taking of their lives?
"I think they killed him," said Carter's mother, Teresa, referring to officers Ron Marsh and Keith Baggett, who detained the 21-year-old. "My son wasn't suicidal." Teresa also says that her son was left-handed, which makes a self-inflicted wound — on the right side of his head — all the more curious and unbelievable.
The FBI confirmed that it is launching an independent investigation, but at present, local police stand by their initial conclusions. Chief Yates said that he viewed the video recording from the vehicle's dash cam and can see no shot coming from outside the car. However, no independent viewings of the dash cam have been confirmed, and the video has not been released to the press.
From Mississippi burnings to Arkansas shootings, police officers appear to be guided by the Jim Crow principle that black men "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."
As crazed white males unleash senseless terror on innocent victims from Oak Creek, Wis., to Aurora, Colo., African-American youths are stopped and searched at the whim of racially biased law enforcement and in the process denied their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable stop and seizure. And when they die — under increasingly curious circumstances — Americans, in the words of Toni Morrison, "acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live."
We are wrong, of course, but it's too late. Much, much, much too late.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on MSNBC, Al-Jazeera, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.