By Stephen Janis and Taya Graham, Special to the AFRO
For months, the circumstances surrounding the death of Anton Black in police custody received little scrutiny. The investigation as to why Black died during his encounter with Greensboro, Md. police on Sept. 15, seemed stalled.
But, now after a concerted effort by Anton’s family and their supporters to call attention to the case, pressure on investigators is mounting.
19-year old Anton Black, was killed while in police custody under dubious circumstances. (Courtesy Photo)
This week civil rights leaders and politicians weighed in, calling for the State Medical Examiner’s office and the Greensboro Police Department to release the autopsy report and body cam footage respectively. It’s a move they say would ease doubts about the way the probe has been handled so far.
“The family has the right to both, and the decision on whether to release the footage of the autopsy should rest with them, not the department,” State Sen. Jill P. Carter told The AFRO.
“By veiling this public information in secrecy, the department fuels distrust suspicion, and anger.”
Greensboro Police say they will only allow the family to view body camera footage. But the family has asked that it be made public.
On Jan. 23, Greensboro Police said they would release the body cam video during a hastily called press conference. Yet, city officials announced they would delay making it available to the public.
A spokesman explained that the move was requested by the Caroline County State’s Attorney’s office. A representative of the office offered no explanation for the delay.
The state’s top official Maryland Governor Larry Hogan also urged the Maryland State Police and Medical Examiner’s office to complete their investigation quickly.
“I’m very frustrated that we haven’t gotten answers yet,” Hogan told The Baltimore Sun. “I’ve been pushing both the state police and the medical examiner to finish their investigation as quickly as they possibly can. The family, the police department, the community, everyone deserves to get answers.”
Both the state police and the Caroline County State Attorney’s office say they are awaiting the autopsy report before moving forward. However, the office of the state Medical Examiner will not comment on the case or provide a timeline for when the autopsy will be completed.
Questions about the sequence of events that lead to Anton’s fatal encounter with police have swirled since the state champion track star and budding model was chased to his Greensboro home on Sept. 15, 2018.
“He was going back and forth to New York on his own for different events, for commercials and stuff like that,” his father Anton Black, Sr. said. “He was really moving. And he came home to visit his mother here, and they took his life.”
Shortly after his death, state police released a statement that a Greensboro police officer stopped Anton after a 911 caller alleged he was dragging a 12-year-old boy. Later, a White woman purporting to be the caller defended the police on Facebook “So glad I called!” she exclaimed.
Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.
But family members and supporters refute that story. They say the young boy who accompanied Anton that day was a relative and lifelong friend.
“That is his cousin-in-law, because the boy’s cousin is married to my daughter, we’re all in the same family,” his father, Anton Black, Sr. told The Real News Network.
They also cite surveillance footage of the stop that shows Anton and the boy walking together.
“I saw two individuals walking up the road, and then all of sudden you saw this police car coming up. And then you see Anton run,” said Richard Potter, former president of the Talbot County NAACP who is leading a coalition to support the family.
And while the events leading up to the police stop remain contentious, Anton’s mother Janelle Black who watched her son die, has little doubt about what happened.
“He had Anton in a headlock,” she said, describing the scene outside her Greensboro home shortly after Anton cried out for help as he struggled with police. “They kept trying to handcuff him. I saw Anton kick his legs, and I did say, keep still. But that was his last kick,” said Jennell Black.
“I said he’s turning blue.”
Still, police have declined to comment on her story. And the town leadership, including an all-White council, has remained defiant.
Last week they voted to put the officer who stopped Anton, Tom Webster, on administrative duties. However, the move came only after weeks of pressure from residents. City officials told The AFRO Webster still has full police powers.
Indeed, the hiring of Webster was controversial from the start. Previous to joining the Greensboro police department Webster was indicted in Delaware for kicking an African-American suspect in the jaw, breaking it in the process.
He was acquitted of second degree assault after a trial, and resigned from the Dover, Del., police department. That’s when Greensboro town officials hired him.
At a recent community meeting, residents who opposed his hiring said his addition to the department marked a crackdown on the African-American community; a change in policing strategy they say may have precipitated the chase that lead to Anton’s death.
“We had officers that cared that were invested. And if those officers were here on that day and they saw those two young men, knowing the history, knowing that they were friends, it would have never been misconceived to be what it was described as,” Greensboro resident Christina Robinson said.
Doubts about the progress of the investigation continue to grow.
“It not only concerns me, it is concerning to the public, there are a lot of unanswered questions that the medical examiner’s report might answer,” Carl Snowden, organizer of the Caucus of African-American leaders said of the yet-to-be completed autopsy.
“One of them is how did he die?”