Update: The Leflore County Coroner has officially concluded that Mr. Carter’s death was a suicide.
The hanging death of Frederick Jermaine Carter is being interpreted as a suicide by local offials. The civil rights community has problems with that theory. According to Mississippi state senator, David Jordan, a resident of Greenwood, “There’s not a single black that’s talked to us who believes that he hanged himself.” The USA Today story below does a good job of presenting both sides of the argument.
By Larry Copeland, USA TODAY
The county sheriff says that a 26-year-old black man found hanged from an oak tree in Greenwood, Miss., apparently committed suicide, but the president of the local NAACP challenges that explanation and says the group will monitor developments in the case.
Frederick Jermaine Carter, whose body was found Friday in North Greenwood, had a history of mental illness, was on medication and had a pattern of wandering away, says Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks.
Carter, who lived in neighboring Sunflower County, was helping his stepfather paint a building Wednesday. The stepfather went to get tools and when he returned, Carter had wandered off, Banks says.
“That really didn’t bother the stepdaddy,” Banks says. “It had happened so many times before. He’s a mental patient and was taking medication. He had wandered to Florida, to Arkansas.”
After Carter was found Friday, Banks says he investigated the scene and found no evidence that anyone else was there. “I didn’t see any indication of anybody else being in that area, going from physical evidence and the general tracks,” Banks says. “He had on a sort of new pair of tennis shoes that had a most distinct track with an unusual design.”
“We tracked him where he walked in there,” he says. “No other tracks followed his tracks. He walked in there by himself. There were no signs around the tree where he was hanging.”
Banks says a man who lives nearby saw Carter walking toward the site, in a field between a levee and the Yazoo River. “He talked to him, asked him what he was doing down there. He said, ‘Well, I’m just walking.’ He wouldn’t talk to him.”
Banks says his finding on a cause of death is not final. He is awaiting autopsy and toxicology reports. “They’ll look for bruising on the body, to see if it looks like somebody might have scuffled with him or whatever,” he says. “I didn’t find any evidence of that.”
The FBI’s Jackson field office is monitoring the situation. “The FBI has been advised of the situation in Leflore County,” spokeswoman Deborah Madden says in a statement. “We stand by to provide whatever assistance is necessary to ensure the integrity of the investigation.”
State Rep. Willie Perkins, a Democrat from Greenwood and president of the Leflore County branch of the NAACP, says that group also “will keep a high scrutiny and watch on any investigative report regarding what was the cause of death.”
“There are a lot of concerns there, No. 1 that this individual could not have (hanged) himself without the assistance of someone, if it’s being declared a suicide,” he says. “Why would someone from Sunflower County come to North Greenwood, the predominantly white housing area of Greenwood? Why would someone that far away come and hang themselves in North Greenwood by a river? That does not pass the smell test to me.”
Another local elected official, state Sen. David Jordan, a Democrat, says the African-American community in Greenwood is “very much concerned.”
“This is in a white wealthy area, and black people just don’t go over there,” he says. “There’s not a single black that’s talked to us who believes that he hanged himself.”
Jordan, who is African-American, suggests there is a historical underpinning for blacks being suspicious about the specter of violence against them: Greenwood is about 12 miles from Money, Miss., site of one of the most infamous lynchings in U.S. history. In August 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy visiting relatives for the summer, was abducted and killed after he allegedly made remarks to a white woman.
“We’re not drawing any conclusions,” Jordan says. “We’re skeptical, and rightfully we should be, given our history. We can’t take this lightly. We just have to wait and see.”