Let me start by saying this much-I live in Jonesboro, Arkansas, the town where Chavis Carter turned up dead in the back of a police car, supposedly having shot himself despite being searched twice and handcuffed with his hands behind his back. I don't really blog much here anymore-I've got too much going on blogging here at the state level trying to fend off the Republican wolves. But this needs to get out. The police chief here in Jonesboro, who some of you have probably seen on CNN saying things that don't quite make sense, has a history of being involved in race related controversy, much of it very disturbing.
Before I begin, let me stress that none of this means that there was foul play in what happened to Chavis Carter. I'd bet on their being incompetence involved, but beyond that is only speculation. What it adds is a new wrinkle to a bizarre case and shines new light on past injustices.
Jonesboro's police chief Michael Yates was, from 2001-2004, the chief of police in a little town called Americus, Georgia. Here's how the folks of Americus remember his tenure:
John Marshall, who was president of the NAACP while Yates was Americus’ police chief, says he found the leader of the force to be a negative influence. “He is a rogue police chief,” Marshall told theGrio. “We did everything to get him out of here, and it’s been a great relief to have him away from here. But he left a lot of his men that were abusive and violent. And that’s his nature. He’s the worst thing we’ve ever seen.”Don't ask me how he got hired here after that...I really don't think I want to know...
Marshall’s strong feelings result from a scandal which pitted the Americus NAACP against Yates when he was chief. Marshall, who is also the owner and publisher of the black newspaper, The Americus Sumter Observer, says the NAACP was working at the time to expose abuses he says Yates’ officers were perpetuating against the black community.
“Basically the conflict we had with him was this. We had an NAACP vice president that used to go to the city council meetings and complain about Yates’ behavior. He was being rough with our citizens. Several of his police officers were beating guys unnecessarily — a lot of abuse,” Marshall alleges.
Yates used unsavory means to return fire, Marshall believes. ”In order to get back at my vice president, [named Craig Walker], he did an illegal background check on this young man and found out that when he was 17 he had [been involved in a robbery],” Marshall told theGrio, adding that Yates “did not follow the proper steps to do that. You are not supposed to do that unless there is a real cause for that kind of search.”
In response, the local NAACP launched a campaign to have Yates removed. Instead, the chief voluntarily stepped down. “They really let him resign and get on out of here, which we were glad of,” Marshall related about the conclusion of the incident.
Nelson Brown, currently an Americus city council member, served under Yates as a commander. “I don’t want to rehash any old wounds. We are trying to move forward,” Brown told theGrio about his time working for Yates.
Yet, Brown believes that he “had some issues with race. He was not good for the department,” Brown said. “When he left the department, it was in worse shape than when he got there, and we managed to recover. He came to our department like he was on a mission. And that mission was not for the growth of the department, nor the community, as a whole.”
Since Yates has been our police chief, there have been a number of incidents in Jonesboro that have been racially tinged. I can't document all of them here, yet. I can tell you about the so called "Obama Riot" where African American college students celebrating Obama's 2008 victory found a large number of police suddenly pulling into their party, only to throw one of the boys there down on the ground and kick him repeatedly. I can also tell you that the Jonesboro police are now being looked at by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). Last night at the commission's meeting, a lot of stuff got said about Yates and the fact that our police force is almost a full 100% white. That's right, nearly 100%-there are no African American officers in a town where something like 19-21% of the population is black and a citizens diversity group has met with a lot of foot dragging from Yates. Also at this meeting, there was an African American woman who said that her teenage son was playing in their yard, not breaking any laws, and when she came home he had been left handcuffed to a tree....That one went over real well...
Stick around you're going to hear more about this guy. We've already got a civil rights group calling for him to resign and the local NAACP speaking out against him to the media. More is no doubt going to come out.