Chavis Carter

Police say Chavis Carter was shot in the head while handcuffed in the backseat of a police car on July 29. His mother, Teresa, calls it murder.

OK, see if this makes sense to you:

Chavis Carter, a 21-year-old black man, is detained by two police officers after a traffic stop July 29 in Jonesboro, Ark., a sleepy town about 130 miles northeast of Little Rock. The officers, Ron Marsh and Keith Baggett, find $10 worth of marijuana and empty “baggies.”

Carter, who’s traveling with two white acquaintances, is searched twice. Unlike his acquaintances, however, he has an outstanding warrant from his native Mississippi for a probation violation. He’s handcuffed and placed in the back of a police cruiser.

Moments later, Carter is slumped over in the cruiser with his head in his lap, dead from a gunshot wound to the head. There’s a large amount of blood on the front of his shirt and pants and on the seat and floor, according to the police report. Marsh finds a small caliber handgun.

The police department’s preliminary conclusion: Carter, whose hands were shackled behind his back with double-locked handcuffs, apparently had a gun the officers missed – twice. Somehow, with his hands tied behind his back, he retrieved that hidden gun and shot himself in the head.

Police called it a clear case of suicide – apparently missing the irony that they sounded remarkably like many of their counterparts of a half-century ago who lost black detainees under mysterious circumstances.

Still, it seems to make sense to Jonesboro Police Chief Michael Yates who says you’d be amazed at some of the things people in handcuffs can do.

“We’ve seen people in handcuffs do some remarkable things – smoke a cigarette, talk on a phone,” Yates told a reporter.

But shoot themselves in the head? Seems incredible, doesn’t it?

The Jonesboro Police Department is still investigating, and the FBI has agreed to investigate, as well.

Some people are calling Carter “the next Trayvon Martin,” referring to the Florida youth who was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer.

Carter’s mother is even more direct: “I think they killed him,” Teresa Carter told a local TV station. “My son wasn’t suicidal.”

As I try to make sense of all this, though, I’m striving to keep an open mind. Even in a society where most people of color have a justifiable distrust of and disdain for law enforcement personnel, I’m still inclined to give the system a chance.

If I were a member of the team of investigators, here are some of the questions I’d want answered:

• After one pat down and one thorough search, how did two trained law enforcement officers miss a handgun?

• If their version of the story is true – that they actually turned away from a man with a loaded gun – would you really want them protecting and serving your community?

• Jonesboro police say Carter shot himself in the right temple. But in an interview with a local TV station, Carter’s mother says her son was left-handed. So how was a left-handed man who was double-lock handcuffed behind his back able to retrieve his .380 caliber semi-automatic handgun and shoot himself in the right temple?

Again, does any of this make sense to you?

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