In Alabama and nationwide, protests continue against the death in police custody of Kindra Darnell Chapman, a Black teenager who died in Homewood City Jail on July 14 under suspicious circumstances. The Homewood police allege Chapman committed suicide after being arrested, but major discrepancies and omissions remain in the official narrative.
Homewood, a suburb of Birmingham, includes the predominantly Black community of Rosedale. According to local Black Lives Matter activists, the Homewood police have a history of “questionable excessive force incidents” in Rosedale. A life-long community resident described the jail as “a hell-hole.”
In addition to racist targeting by the police, residents point out that police also harass the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. According to a friend of Chapman, Juwaun King, 16, Chapman identified as gay from the seventh grade on. King said Chapman planned to go to college, was in a relationship with a woman who was pregnant and was “very excited about the baby — very.” King says the official account “doesn’t make sense, period. And I decided I have to speak up.” (america.aljazeera.com, July 23)
A BLM-Birmingham delegation rallied outside the jail July 21 to demand information and transparency from the police. After being denied any briefing, even about standard police operating procedures, they walked into traffic on the major commuter artery, U.S. 31, blocked cars and refused to move. Four men and two women were arrested. One was Tasered by police.
In New York City, a July 22 march for justice for Kindra Chapman and Sandra Bland, dead in police custody in Texas, drew 1,000 people and continued for hours. Protesters also marched for India Clarke, a trans woman of color murdered in Florida on July 21.
Local activists from Operation I Am, an offshoot of the Hands Up Birmingham movement, held a candlelight vigil for Chapman on July 26. About 100 people attended and heard from Linda Chapman, Kindra’s grandmother. Linda Chapman and her spouse, who raised Kindra, had previously held a press conference with BLM and the Nation of Islam to stress they did not believe their grandchild’s death was suicide, especially given the Homewood Police Department’s history.
‘Jailhouse suicide’: new code for jailhouse lynching?
Determined and independent reports by local BLM activists have uncovered numerous discrepancies in the Homewood police account of Chapman’s death and raised many troubling questions: Had the police repeatedly targeted Chapman previously for harassment? What, when and where were the actual circumstances of her arrest on July 14?
Most importantly, what were the police doing with Chapman in custody for apparently “a missing forty-five minutes” between the arrest and the arrival at the jail?
Avee-Ashanti Shabazz, a BLM activist video-reporting from Homewood, asks of that missing time, “Was she beaten? Was she tortured? Was she raped?”
In 1975, Joann Little, a 21-year-old African American, was arrested in Beaufort, N.C., for a petty offense similar to that of Kindra Chapman. Little’s combative struggle with her white jailer was all that saved her from rape, and perhaps death.
In that fight, her jailer died instead of Little. Through an international campaign for her freedom, she became “the first woman in United States history to be acquitted using the defense that she used deadly force to resist sexual assault.” (“Dimension of Criminal Law,” by T. Pickard et al.)
In 2015, Kindra Chapman, a slender, five-foot 18-year-old, may have fought for her life and lost. The bruising and trauma to Chapman’s mouth, eye and head, seen after her death by a 14-year-old sister, speak to this possibility.
The police insist “suicide.” But what if “jailhouse suicide” is now the new cover-up term for “jailhouse lynching”?
There is a long history of police cooperation with lynchings in the South. Sixty-four percent of early 20th century lynching victims were taken to their death from jails. (“Lynching in the New South,” by W.F. Brundage) Jefferson County, where Homewood is located, was the site of 29 lynchings between 1877 and 1950 — the ninth highest rate of Southern counties. (Equal Justice Initiative)
Racism and sexism make Alabama jails a particular hell for women. The state’s Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women is ranked in the top 10 worst U.S. prisons. (Mother Jones, May 9, 2013) The U.S. Department of Justice found that at least one-third of Tutwiler employees “had sex” with prisoners — rape, under those circumstances.
The Homewood police continue to release information selectively and insist that Chapman’s death was by her own hand.
But Joanne Little said, “My life is not in the hands of the court. My life is in the hands of the people.” (Workers World, Aug. 8, 1975) The people’s struggle continues to unmask the forces of racism, homophobia and state oppression looming behind Kindra Chapman’s death. Justice for her name and her memory are now in the hands of the people: #KindraLives and #Fight4HerName.