Memphis and Mid-South residents are invited to attend a public rally Monday, Aug. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the National Civil Rights Museum to express support for the family of Chavis Carter. Jonesboro, Ark. police claim he committed suicide while handcuffed in the back seat of a police cruiser.
Carter, who was arrested July 29, used a .380-caliber Cobra semi automatic handgun to fatally shot himself, police assert, after he was apprehended on an outstanding drug charge warrant. Officers said Carter, 21, could have hidden the gun while not handcuffed and waiting to be officially charged.
U.S. Justice Department officials attended a community meeting in Jonesboro Tuesday night to hear citizen concerns about Chavis's death, and about how the African-American community there is treated.
"I met the young man's aunt and I tried to console her," Kareem Ali, the chief organizer of Monday's planned rally, told The New Tri State Defender on Wednesday evening.
"She said, 'Y'all don't stop fighting! Don't stop fighting! It was the moment when I knew we had to help this family."
Ali, who by self-description is a community activist and a concerned member of a Nation of Islam study group based in Southaven, Miss., said the Memphis rally was organized at the request of Carter's mother, Teresa Carter. Prayer vigils already have been held in Tunica, Miss. and Jonesboro. Ali said the National Civil Rights Museum represents sacred ground that he hopes will help draw a large number of citizens to support the family's drive for an exhaustive inquiry in the case.
"I was introduced to his mother by friends of his in Southaven that were not able to attend the vigils in Tunica and Jonesboro. We need the citizens of Memphis to come and show support for the young man's family and to send a message."
The family's attorney, Russell Marlin, told the Associated Press that Carter was "a healthy, happy guy. There's no reason to think he would have killed himself."
Jonesboro police created a video to show how the slight (5', 8" 160 lbs.) Carter could have maneuvered to shoot himself. Ali said many community observers view the video as a "cover-up."
Jonesboro Police Chief Michael Yates told the AP, "It's obvious they did miss the weapon on the first search. It is like, since he was placed into the car unhandcuffed the first time, that he had an opportunity to stash the weapon in the car. The second search, which was more thorough and inclusive, did not disclose the weapon either."
According to Jonesboro police, film, audio and witnesses back up their claim that neither of the arresting officers fired a shot. Ali said pressure is needed to force a fully transparent investigation.
The FBI is monitoring the case and Jonesboro police are conducting an internal investigation, but Ali says there is little trust in the hometown process, especially after police released their video version of what might have happened.
George Grant, the retired dean of the Arkansas State University library, said the police department should not be reaccredited until a thorough investigation of Carter's death is completed. Of the city's 145-person police force, three are African Americans.