On January 6, 2007 a young couple in East Tennessee was kidnapped. Channon Christian was just 21 years old and her boyfriend Christopher Newsome was 23 years old. They were carjacked by multiple assailants in an apartment complex parking lot where they had gone to visit friends. But that was just the beginning of the horrors they would endure over the following days. Taken to a small house on Chipman Street in Knoxville, Tennessee they were sexually assaulted and tortured.
Chris Newsome, a star high school baseball player was repeatedly raped and savagely sodomized with an object. After hours of this torture he was either walked barefoot or dragged to near-by railroad tracks where he was shot in the back of the head execution style and subsequently doused with gasoline and set on fire.
Back at the Chipman Street house Channon Christian was beaten mercilessly, raped repeatedly in multiple orifices, and also sexually assaulted with an object believed to be a chair leg. In an effort to destroy any DNA evidence her captors poured a chemical believed to be bleach down her throat and on her ripped and torn genital area. Following this she was tied up, her head was covered with a garbage bag, her body placed in a large garbage bag, and stuffed into a garbage can like trash. She was not dead. Instead she suffocated to death in that garbage can, her body battered and abused. Suffocation is a slow and painful way to die. No one can say what went through her mind in those last minutes or hours.
The man who was listed as the renter of the house on Chipman Street was a convicted felon, Lemaricus Davidson. He had previously been convicted of carjacking and robbery so he was no stranger to violence. In fact he had only recently been released from prison. As police hunted for Davidson they also looked for his brother Latalvis Cobbins. Davidson was arrested in Knoxville while Cobbins and his friend George Thomas were captured in Kentucky where they had fled. Also arrested for her complicity in the crimes was Cobbins’ girlfriend Vanessa Coleman.
There was a trial. They were found guilty and sentenced. Davidson was sentenced to death. The rest of the accused were given long sentences behind bars. The crimes never made big news on a national level. Even when a group of about thirty white supremacists came to the streets of Knoxville to protest the paucity of national media coverage locals did not join them. There were no riots by Knoxvillians. There were no stores broken into and looted in any communities. Even though all but one of these monsters were simply going to spend years in prison after the monstrous torture and murder of two kids the community did not rise up and burn down the town. Even when prosecutors refused to recognize the killings as a hate crime people shook their heads in disbelief but did not attack innocent blacks on the streets of the city.
It should have ended there with a less than perfect justice being served. But it didn’t. The trials had been presided over by a Knox County Criminal Court Judge, Richard Baumgartner. He performed his duties competently throughout the trials. However in the following years he was found guilty of buying prescription drugs illegally. Almost 5 years after the crimes that took the dignity and the innocent lives of Christian and Newsome, after years of suffering experienced by their parents, the criminals would have to be re-tried. The families would once again sit in the courtroom and listen to the horrors experienced by their children. The community was outraged. But there was no rioting in the streets. There was no looting of stores, no burning of cars. The cases were retried. Vanessa Coleman came off easy. Her sentence was significantly reduced for good behavior. I guess watching two people tortured and murdered and not saying anything can be washed away by staying out of trouble behind bars.
Why do I bring this up now? I bring it up because a young man in Ferguson, Missouri was shot and killed by a policeman. He had just stolen cigars from a local convenience store; a store frequented by many neighborhood residents. A store frequented by women and children, working class people. A store owned and operated by people who worked hard every day to support their families. Michael Brown was shot dead in the street by a policeman. The policeman claimed he has been struck by the victim. There was some evidence that might be true. Michael Brown was a young black man who had graduated high school, no small feat for an inner city youth. He made some mistakes. Did he deserve to be shot? Probably not. Did he deserve to be killed? I don’t think so. I was not there. I was not in that policeman’s shoes and I can’t say if he felt threatened or not. But it does seem he could have disabled him without killing him. However I was not there. Neither were the thousands of Ferguson residents who destroyed local businesses, looted stores, burned cars, and injured other residents who were not there either. They rose up to protest. But instead they destroyed a town, leaving in their wake a stain on the city and the country. Was justice served? Maybe not. But where is the justice for the innocent by standers who must now either re-build their lives and livelihoods or move on somewhere else? Where is the justice for the now unemployed workers of Ferguson whose places of employment lay shattered and shuttered? What have the rioters accomplished? Michael Brown’s parents did not ask for this. They have suffered the loss of their child. They will never see the man he might have become. They will never see him marry, never play with their grandchildren.
Where were Reverend Al Sharpton and Reverend Jesse Jackson when Channon Christian and Chris Newsome were being laid to rest after their brutal murders? Who spoke for them?
I don’t deny there is a racial inequality in our country. But the actions of groups like the rioters in Ferguson only make the rift wider. Three young people are dead. None of them should be; not Channon, not Chris, and not Michael. Trayvon Martin should not be lying in a grave. Not because they are white or black but because they were young people with their lives ahead of them. We cannot say where those lives might have gone and what they might have accomplished. But I am sure none of them would want to see their communities destroyed and more young lives lost in their names.
The riots will not bring Michael back. The riots will not cleanse the streets of his shed blood. I guess the people of Knoxville already figured that out. Maybe Ferguson should take note.