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Sunday, September 12, 2004



I don't know if this case was a lynching or a murder, either. But really, the SPLC should be all over the sheriff's office and all over the case. So what if it turns out to be a suicide, somehow? I don't know, maybe ALL of the details you have gleaned so far are wrong. Maybe the body was really found in this guy's bedroom instead of outside in a public place! I don't know, I can't figure out how the hell this wouldn't be suspicious! That doesn't matter--the mission of the SPLC is to "fight all forms of discrimination." It certainly sounds like discrimination for the sheriff's department to dismiss the suspicious death of an African-American man without sufficient investigation. It looks like they aren't pursuing this case simply because it looked too much like a lynching! What is the matter with this Potok character, "thanks for your interest in these matters!" what a load of crap. It's time for the SPLC to stop worrying about maybe being embarassed and to send some lawyers, or even some nice legal interns, to Tuskegee to investigate.

Kevin Hayden

Potol said "We don't have any independent information about this death, although if it begins to look particularly suspicious, we will start to gather some."

And: "I don't dismiss any possibility in the Tuskegee case, but I think it's prudent to have a lot more FACTS before going public with allegations of lynchings, murders, or anything of that sort. I hope this explains our thinking on this."

His diatribe in the middle strikes me as extremely condescending in its assumption of many things. Perhaps this is borne from their actual experience from others who've corresponded, but it plays to a stereotype of folks who report to them, which they'd be wise not to do.

However, from the sections I quoted, I infer that they do have their eye on it and aren't dismissing my/our concerns. With the tone of the middle, it'd be easy to overlook those points in Potok's reply.

Any speculation about why it has taken takes Tuskegee's police department 30 days so far to investigate this without providing answers to the family may be only that. I covered a suicide in a Massachusetts jail where the local police were not forthcoming for several weeks, so I don't know if there's an established timeline that police departments try to meet.

I do think they were wrong to publicly label it a suicide before such investigation is completed. Does the investigation continue because therey've seen physical reasons that might contradict that first ruling? Do they investigate to be certain they satisfy the disbelieving family that they uncovered every stone? Who knows?

Failing to secure the scene - no matter what they conclude - is a monumental gaffe that may always leave a taint on their results. North, South, East or West, there's no excuse for trained professionals to demonstrate such incompetence and I certainly hope those who made the mistake are properly disciplined for their failure to maintain standards the public must expect.

For now, I suspect we can only wait. But perhaps it'd be prudent to ask local police chiefs what a reasonable range of time one should expect of such an investigation.

I don't mean to defend the errors nor grant defense where one's due, but if we were to assume they DID find something to suggest it's a homicide/lynching, then wouldn't it also be a reasonable assumption that they'd be pursuing one or more suspects? If so, revealing details publicly could injure their case and diminish their odds for a successful prosecution.

Potok could use a refresher in public relations, and even the dismay he feels about all the past erroneous publicity does not excuse the defensive and condescending tone of his email to me. But I agree that jumping to conclusions achieves nothing.

Possibly the best response is for everyone watching this to phone the dept at (334)727-0200 and ask that you be emailed a notification when the investigation's complete. Without being hostile in any way, that would send the clear message that the interest in the case is sufficient to deter any motivation for anything less than than a professional conclusion.

I should think that would increase their motivation to avoid any further errors.


I guess what bothered me about the quoted email (was that the entirety of the email?) was that even without the shoelaces detail, this was a really weird thing. I mean, how often do people succeed in committing suicide by hanging themselves in a public place? The other piece is, a lot of people in the area think it was a lynching. Even if the shoelaces detail is not true, there are people circulating that as a rumor. So if this hanging was not a hate crime of some kind, it's really important to show that it was not by being super careful about the investigation. Right? Because otherwise, local African-Americans are going to feel very threatened.

This is why I think it's well within the purview of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Instead of being all, "Thanks for your email dude, now go away" they should be telling you exactly what they are doing in this case. For example, "We are working with the sheriff's office to make sure that the details of this case are released in a timely way." That doesn't put them in opposition to the sheriff--it occurred to me that some of their motivation might have to do with wanting to work well with law enforcement--and it still means that they are on this.

What I mean is, their (the SPLC and the sheriff's office) attitude should be, "Anything that has the appearance of a hate crime should be treated carefully" and not "You think this is a hate crime because you are stupid and/or paranoid."

Ben G.

Kevin, I think you are being quite reasonable, but I have to disagree with what you're saying. First point of disagreement is in the post you're commenting on: when does this start to look suspicious enough to warrant action from the SPLC? If part of what looks suspicious is the poor quality of the police investigation, then what good does it do to wait and see what the police turn up first?

But I have a more serious thing to disagree about, too. It's fine to say that the police may have their reasons for not going public with all their information. BUT, we are talking about an incident where a black man was found hanging from a tree in a public place. That is ENORMOUSLY symbolic and can only be experienced as an act of TERRORISM by the African American communities in the area.

We are talking about something that reads as racial terrorism in an area that has a pitiful legacy of incident upon incident of racist violence going uninvestigated— bombings, shootings, cars getting run off the road, beatings, you name it. It is well documented that in the past such things went on with full knowledge of the police and that, in fact, the police were often the perpetrators themselves. Very few of the countless incidents were ever investigated. The police on the force now are the children and grandchildren of the Police/KKK coalition that used terror tactics to keep the "peace" by subduing and intimidating black folks. The past is still very near.

Right now, the Tuskegee Police has a professional and a historical responsibility to quell the legitimate fears of the community that they are supposed to serve. This means conducting the investigation seriously and carefully and as publicly as circumstances allow—even if this only means regular announcements that they are working hard at the investigation and will reveal the developments as soon as possible. If the police has good reason to think that this is a suicide then they must give some indication as to why.

If the police cannot vigorously maintain the sort of conduct I just outlined, they collude either in effect or by intent with terrorist murderers and send the message to all African Americans in the area that in Alabama lynchings are still a-okay.

Af far as the SPLC goes, if they are worth anything as an organization, they should be keenly aware of the symbolic force of Winston Carter's death and be doing EVERYTHING possible to bring pressure on the police to start acting appropriately.

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