Commentary: How Does a Black Kid in Cuffs Commit Suicide in a Cop Car?

Chavis Carter

Commentary: How Does a Black Kid in Cuffs Commit Suicide in a Cop Car?

In Arkansas, police are claiming a Chavis Carter, arrested for pot possession, had a hidden gun he used to shoot himself in the back of the cop car--but something smells fishy.

Published August 3, 2012

As riots rage in Anaheim, California, following a police killing of an unarmed Latino man, another young man’s death, this one in the back of a police car in Arkansas, has people scratching their heads about how yet another unarmed minority’s interaction with police turned fatal.

The details are very sketchy at this point, but here’s what we know so far: 

—Jonesboro police officers Keith Baggett and Ron Marsh stopped a “suspicious white truck.”

—Carter was a passenger in the vehicle with two white males.

—When asked for ID, Carter said he didn't have any and gave a fake name. He later gave his real name and officers learned of an outstanding warrant in Mississippi.

—During a search of the car, scales smelling of marijuana and a baggie with a "white powdery granular substance" were found near Carter's seat.

—The two white men were handcuffed and Carter was "detained" in the back seat of a police car.

—Carter was searched twice, once when the police approached the vehicle when he was initially detained and again after they confirmed his outstanding warrant.

—Carter was then handcuffed with his hands at his back and placed in the back of Marsh's police car.

—Baggett heard a "loud thump with metallic sound" and thought it was a car driving over a piece of metal on the road.

—The white driver and white passenger were then allowed to leave after being advised about their rights.

Police said they heard a thumping noise and found Carter in the back of Marsh's police car with a gunshot wound to the head. The police say that Carter killed himself with a gun he had hidden on his person.

Sgt. Lyle Waterworth of Jonesboro Police Department told WREG-TV that police officers have been known to miss weapons or other items during a search. “This instance, it happened to be a gun,” said Waterworth.

In other words, we’re supposed to believe that Carter, who was arrested while his two white friends were allowed to remain free, was so overcome with grief over a little marijuana arrest that he pulled out a hidden gun and killed himself, all while he had his hands cuffed behind his back?

Something about the story is fishy, and Carter’s family doesn’t believe it for a second. Carter’s mother, for instance, says she’s heard her son was shot in the right temple despite being left handed. “My son wasn‘t suicidal,” she told reporters. And Carter’s father, Charles Douglas, agrees: "I don't believe this was an accident,” he told a local news station. “I know my son. He's not suicidal. He wouldn't have taken his own life.”

Both of the officers on duty at the time of Carter’s arrest and death have been put on leave while authorities investigate the shooting. As we await the investigation’s verdict, we should remember to not pass judgment. Simply because the situation sounds strange doesn’t mean that the police killed Carter and are trying to cover it up. Perhaps the young man was indeed feeling turmoil, turmoil that his arrest heightened to unbearable extremes. That said, it’s telling that so many people are instantly questioning whether the officers on-duty are staging some sort of cover-up. Police should be a part of society that people are happy to have around. Yet in the face of so many instances of crooked and racist policing, it’s now human nature to wonder if Carter is yet another fatality in the war against bad cops.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


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Written by Cord Jefferson


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