By Stephen Janis and Taya Graham
Special to the AFRO

His death at the hands of police was captured on body camera.  His last words as a cop laid across his 160-pound frame were “I can’t breathe.” The officer who escalated his arrest had previously been charged with a crime for kicking an African American man in the jaw but was hired anyway because his record was kept secret. 

However, in the state of Maryland, none of the details of what lead to the death of 19-year old Anton Black in September of 2018 during an arrest prompted any official action.  Nor did it lead to any changes in the way in-custody deaths are investigated. 

Instead Maryland State Medical Examiner ruled Black died as a result of an accident during his arrest in the small Eastern Shore town of Greensboro. Caroline County State’s attorney Joe Riley would not even impanel a grand jury to review the case.

Anton Black died in police custody on the Eastern Shore on September 2018.
(Courtesy Photo)

But now activists and family members say the 19-year old’s death needs to be reexamined in light of the national protests since the death of George Floyd in police custody.  They are also renewing a push for legislation that would make it easier to hold police accountable.  Partly they say, because the stark similarities between the two cases are impossible to ignore. 

“Absolutely,” former Talbot County NAACP President Richard Potter said when asked if Floyd’s case evoked comparisons to Black’s.  

“The only difference is we have a medical examiner who ruled his death an accident. Until we can get that ME report changed, or an independent opinion, there’s not much more we can do.”

Police chased Black to his mother’s Greensboro MD home after a white woman called police alleging he had kidnapped a 12-year old boy. Later his family said the child was in fact a cousin.   

Officer Thomas Webster tasered Black before taking him to the ground while two additional -duty officers restrained the former high school track star. Body camera footage shows at least one them laying across Black’s body, which is when Black can be heard begging for his life.   

Minutes later he became unresponsive and was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. 

After a four-month delay, the Maryland State Medical Examiner’s office ruled Black’s death an accident, citing an underlying heart condition,

But an independent forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht consulted by the AFRO said the deadly downward restraint caused Black to suffocate.  

“I disagree with the official ruling, I believe this is a classic case of compression or positional asphyxiation,” Wecht told the AFRO.

“To have him conveniently die of a heart defect he lived with all his life is a cop out,” Wecht said.

“That is just so blatantly wrong.”

“This wasn’t an accident,” Potter said. “You can’t say the kid died from natural causes; he was a healthy 19-year old.” 

The continued outrage over Black’s death is why State Senator Jill Carter plans to reintroduce a long list of legislation to address police brutality she has sponsored before but failed to pass.  Among them a bill called Anton’s law, which would give families access to the disciplinary records of officers involved in an in-custody death. 

“They’ve refused to vote on these bills for the past two years,” she told the AFRO. “But now there is interest.” 

Carter says her key focus will be on repealing the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, a statute that grants extraordinary protections to police officers which activists say prevents real oversight of police. 

I’m looking forward to a straight repeal of LEOBR,” Carter said.