On October 9, 1948, in the fourth inning of the fourth game in the World Series, a young man stepped up to the plate. His team, the Cleveland Indians, held a slim one run lead. The Indians held an equally slim one game lead. Before 82,000 people, the largest crowd ever to see a series game up till that time, and with no one on base and with two outs, the batter slammed the second pitch 420 feet over the right field wall. It proved to be the decisive run, providing a 2-1 win for the Indians. It also provided an overwhelming 3-1 lead in the series. Two games later the Indians shut out the Boston Braves on the road.
Larry Doby was the driving force behind the only Cleveland World Series Championship in the last half century. He also led the heroic drive to the pennant that year. In a race that came down to a playoff with the other Boston team, the Red Sox, Doby paced the team with a .396 batting average over the last 20 crucial games. His season average was .301.
Although Larry Doby had a stellar career in baseball–playing in six All-Star games, named to a seventh (1949-1955), playing in two World Series (1948 and 1954), home run leader in the American League in 1952, both the home run and RBI leader and runner-up to Yogi Berra for American League MVP in 1954, having the top fielding average of all full-time American League center fielders in 1954, and setting a major league record of 164 games without an error in 1954 and 1955 that stood for seventeen years–he will be remembered mostly as a quiet and proud pioneer. He became the second African-American to play major league baseball on July 5, 1947, following the much more flamboyant Jackie Robinson by only eleven weeks. He was the first African-American to play in the American League. Some years later he played another pioneering role, but again he was second. Following Frank Robinson, who was named manager for the Cleveland Indians in 1975, Doby replaced his old friend and former teammate, Bob Lemon, as manager of the Chicago White Sox in June of 1978.
Born in Camden, South Carolina in 1923, Lawrence Eugene Doby was the son of David and Etta Doby. David, a World War I veteran who worked in the horse industry as a groom, played baseball in his spare time and was known as a great hitter. Any influence on Larry’s baseball skills was indirect. David was away from home most of the time working in the North. Larry vaguely remembered his father playing ball but little else. David Doby died when Larry was only eleven years old. Etta also had little to do with Larry’s upbringing. She emigrated north to Paterson, New Jersey in search of work. Etta’s mother was in charge of Larry’s life during most of his early years, rearing him with strict discipline, regular church attendance, and reading and writing lessons before his formal education began. That changed when Larry’s grandmother began having mental problems, and Etta returned to move Larry into the home of her sister-in-law, where he lived for the next four years.
These few years living with the Cookes on Lyttleton Street in Camden were very happy and positive years for Larry. Residents still living there remember playing ball in the street in games where race did not matter (Robinson). His uncle, who was successful in construction, was a leader in the African-American community. Larry attended Mather Academy, where he had good teachers, heard lectures by Mary McLeod Bethune, and played organized baseball and other sports for the first time. He learned baseball from Richard DuBose, who was one of the best known figures in African-American baseball in the state for more than half a century. DuBose had also coached Larry’s father in the many games he organized. In 1938 Larry graduated from the 8th grade and his mother insisted that he move to Paterson to attend high school, where educational and economic opportunities were relatively greater for African-Americans. He never lived in South Carolina again.
Living with a friend of his mother in Paterson, Doby soon adjusted to a life that revolved around sports in the streets and in school. Only being able to see his mother on her one day off a week from domestic service, Doby never really had a family, but he found solace in sports. At the end of his high school career he had lettered in eleven sports and was an all-state performer in most of them. He began playing with the semi-professional and professional teams in both basketball and baseball. His talents were such that he even played a few games before graduation with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League. He played under an assumed name since high school students weren’t allowed to play. Following graduation, he played the summer of 1942 with the Eagles, batting .391 in the 26 games for which records exist.
Doby began college in September of 1942, but his college career quickly ended with a draft notice. Ironically, he was stationed at Camp Smalls in the Great Lakes, a station named after a fellow South Carolinian, Robert Smalls, a hero of the Civil War. There his physical prowess earned him an assignment as physical education instructor and plenty of playing time with sports teams that represented the camp. He spent the last year of the war on a coral reef in the Pacific both unloading ships and organizing recreational activities for other servicemen.
Discharged from the Navy in early 1946, Doby returned to professional baseball. He spent a winter season playing in Puerto Rico and then rejoined the Newark Eagles. There he played with some of the all-time greats: Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige (who would later be his roommate in Cleveland), Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, both of whom would later play with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was not the top player in the league, but he was among the elite with a .348 batting average for the 1946 season. He helped lead his team to the Negro World Series title. The first half of the 1947 season Doby led the league with a .458 average. He did not finish the season–fate and Bill Veeck were about to change and challenge his life.
On July 3, 1947, after weeks of rumors, Larry Doby was told that he had been purchased by Bill Veeck’s Cleveland Indians. He made his playing debut two days later when he struck out pinch hitting, but barely missed on a line drive that was foul by inches. He received very limited playing time that first half season, appearing in only 29 games and batting 32 times, mostly as a pinch hitter.
The next year, the championship and World Series year, Doby came into his own. He was the first African-American to hit a home run in an All-Star game and was the first African-American to win a league home run crown. He is best remembered as a power hitter, who like other power hitters, did strike out a lot. In May of 1948 he hit what would have been one of the longest home runs in history, estimated at over 500 feet, had it not hit a loud speaker hanging high over the center field fence in Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. Almost exactly a year later he hit another home run over 500 feet. It cleared the scoreboard in right center field in the same ball park.
He should also be remembered as one of the best defensive center fielders in the game at the time, with a 164 game streak of flawless play in the field. On July 31, 1954, Doby made a catch that snatched a home run away by vaulting himself up the fence with his left hand while making the catch with his right hand, then falling back onto the field while hanging onto the ball. Dizzy Dean, who was broadcasting the game, declared it the greatest catch he had ever seen. In that year he led Cleveland to a record number of wins in the regular season, a record that stood till 1998 when the Yankees set a new mark.
After breaking an ankle while sliding into third base in 1959, Doby retired from baseball as a player. After an interlude of nearly ten years, which included briefly playing ball in Japan, running a business in Newark, and campaigning for Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 Presidential Campaign, Doby reentered professional baseball as hitting coach for the Montreal Expos in 1969. Thus began his second career. He proved to be a very effective coach with his ability to communicate with players and adapt instruction to their styles and abilities. His ambition was to be a manager, but no African-American had ever managed a major league team before. He nearly got the chance in 1975 with his old team, the Cleveland Indians. But the management chose Frank Robinson instead.
Three frustrating years later Doby was given a chance to manage. The opportunity came from the same man who had brought him into the white major leagues, Bill Veeck, who was then head of the Chicago White Sox. However, the opportunity was really only half a chance. Although Doby was able to improve the team’s performance, he did not have the players to win a pennant without a miracle. Most importantly to the owner, Doby did not improve ticket sales. Thus Veeck fired Doby and replaced him with a white manager whom he felt would draw in more of the White Sox’s mostly white fans. Doby then left baseball to work as director of community relations for the New Jersey Nets of the National Basketball Association.
For all his feats in baseball, perhaps his greatest achievement lay outside the statistics that are such a central part of the culture of baseball. Larry Doby, without the months of preparation that helped Jackie Robinson endure his ordeal, endured two ordeals of his own. The first involved his entry into a hostile world where many wanted him to fail, and the second was being ignored by history because he was not the first to enter that world. Doby endured both without complaint, never saying anything about Jackie Robinson that could be construed as even hinting at jealousy. He endured with quiet pride and great dignity. When he first joined the Indians, some players refused to shake his hand. Doby has refused to ever say who they were. He and his family were forced to live apart from the team in Spring training camp because of segregation rules. He often had to stay in separate hotel facilities and eat in separate areas from the rest of his teammates. In one instance, after being tagged out at second base, the opponent spit in his face. Doby walked away, not giving in to the evil of prejudice.
Late in life Doby finally began to receive the recognition he had quietly earned. In 1994 the Cleveland Indians retired the number 14 he had worn in the ten seasons playing there. The 1997 All-Star Game in Cleveland was dedicated to Larry Doby. He was honorary American League captain and threw out the first pitch for the game. About half a million dollars from the All-Star proceeds went to building a playground project in the city where he first played, the Larry Doby All-Star Playground. Finally, in July 1998, Doby was awarded a long overdue recognition, induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Romare Howard Bearden was born on September 2, 1911, to (Richard) Howard and Bessye Bearden in Charlotte, North Carolina, and died in New York City on March 12, 1988, at the age of 76. His life and art are marked by exceptional talent, encompassing a broad range of intellectual and scholarly interests, including music, performing arts, history, literature and world art. Bearden was also a celebrated humanist, as demonstrated by his lifelong support of young, emerging artists.
Romare Bearden began college at Lincoln University, transferred to Boston University and completed his studies at New York University (NYU), graduating with a degree in education. While at NYU, Bearden took extensive courses in art and was a lead cartoonist and then art editor for the monthly journal The Medley. He had also been art director of Beanpot, the student humor magazine of Boston University. Bearden published many journal covers during his university years and the first of numerous texts he would write on social and artistic issues. He also attended the Art Students League in New York and later, the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1935, Bearden became a weekly editorial cartoonist for the Baltimore Afro-American, which he continued doing until 1937.
From the mid-1930s through 1960s, Bearden was a social worker with the New York City Department of Social Services, working on his art at night and on weekends. His success as an artist was recognized with his first solo exhibition in Harlem in 1940 and his first solo show in Washington, DC, in 1944. Bearden was a prolific artist whose works were exhibited during his lifetime throughout the United States and Europe. His collages, watercolors, oils, photomontages and prints are imbued with visual metaphors from his past in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Harlem and from a variety of historical, literary and musical sources.
Bearden was also a respected writer and an eloquent spokesman on artistic and social issues of the day. Active in many arts organizations, in 1964 Bearden was appointed the first art director of the newly established Harlem Cultural Council, a prominent African-American advocacy group. He was involved in founding several important art venues, such as The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Cinque Gallery. Initially funded by the Ford Foundation, Bearden and the artists Norman Lewis and Ernest Crichlow established Cinque to support younger minority artists. Bearden was also one of the founding members of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters in 1970 and was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1972.
Recognized as one of the most creative and original visual artists of the twentieth century, Romare Bearden had a prolific and distinguished career. He experimented with many different mediums and artistic styles, but is best known for his richly textured collages, two of which appeared on the covers of Fortune and Time magazines, in 1968. An innovative artist with diverse interests, Bearden also designed costumes and sets for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and programs, sets and designs for Nanette Bearden’s Contemporary Dance Theatre.
Bearden’s work is included in many important public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The Studio Museum in Harlem, among others. He has had retrospectives at the Mint Museum of Art (1980), the Detroit Institute of the Arts (1986), as well as numerous posthumous retrospectives, including The Studio Museum in Harlem (1991) and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2003).
Bearden was the recipient of many awards and honors throughout his lifetime. Honorary doctorates were given by Pratt Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Davidson College and Atlanta University, to name but a few. He received the Mayor’s Award of Honor for Art and Culture in New York City in 1984 and the National Medal of Arts, presented by President Ronald Reagan, in 1987.
Oswald Garrison Villard (1872-1949)
Villard was one of the founders of the NAACP and wrote “The Call” leading to its formation. His undated portrait comes from the records of the NAACP at the Library of Congress.
Daisy Gatson Bates (1914-1999)
Bates mentored nine black students who enrolled at all-white Central High School in Little Rock, AR, in 1957. The students used her home as an organizational hub. The 1957 photograph of Bates is from the New York World-Telegram & Sun Newspaper photographic collection at the Library of Congress.
W.C. Handy, in full William Christopher Handy, (born November 16, 1873, Florence, Alabama, U.S.—died March 28, 1958, New York, New York), African American composer who changed the course of popular music by integrating the blues idiom into then-fashionable ragtime music. Among his best-known works is the classic “St. Louis Blues.”
Handy was a son and grandson of Methodist ministers, and he was educated at Teachers Agricultural and Mechanical College in Huntsville, Alabama. Going against family tradition, he began to cultivate his interest in music at a young age and learned to play several instruments, including the organ, piano, and guitar. He was a particularly skilled cornetist and trumpet player. Longing to experience the world beyond Florence, Alabama, Handy left his hometown in 1892. He traveled throughout the Midwest, taking a variety of jobs with several musical groups. He also worked as a teacher in 1900–02. He conducted his own orchestra, the Knights of Pythias from Clarksdale, Mississippi, from 1903 to 1921. During the early years of this period of his life, Handy was steeped in the music of the Mississippi Delta and of Memphis, and he began to arrange some of those tunes for his band’s performances. Unable to find a publisher for the songs he was beginning to write, Handy formed a partnership with Harry Pace and founded Pace & Handy Music Company (later Handy Brothers Music Company).
Handy worked during the period of transition from ragtime to jazz. Drawing on the vocal blues melodies of African American folklore, he added harmonizations to his orchestral arrangements. His work helped develop the conception of the blues as a harmonic framework within which to improvise. With his “Memphis Blues” (published 1912) and especially his “St. Louis Blues” (1914), he introduced a melancholic element, achieved chiefly by use of the “blue” or slightly flattened seventh tone of the scale, which was characteristic of African American folk music. Later he wrote other blues pieces (“Beale Street Blues,” 1916; “Loveless Love”) and several marches and symphonic compositions. He issued anthologies of African American spirituals and blues (Blues: An Anthology, 1926; W.C. Handy’s Collection of Negro Spirituals, 1938; A Treasury of the Blues, 1949) and studies of black American musicians (Negro Authors and Composers of the United States, 1938; Unsung Americans Sung, 1944). His autobiography, Father of the Blues, was published in 1941.
Salem Poor was born into slavery in 1747 on a farm in Andover, Massachusetts owned by John Poor and his son John Poor Jr. Many New England families treated their slaves as live-in servants and near family members, which may have been the case in the Poor family. Salem Poor purchased his freedom on July 10, 1769, from John Poor Jr. for 27 pounds, a year’s salary for an average working man at the time.
In August 1771, Poor married Nancy Parker, a maidservant to Captain James Parker who was half Native American and half African American. The couple continued to live in Andover and had a son named Jonas born in about 1775.
In May 1775, Poor enlisted in the militia, serving under Captain Benjamin Ames in Colonel James Frye’s regiment, opposing the British troops occupying besieged Boston. On June 16, 1775, Frye’s regiment, along with two others, was ordered to march from Cambridge to Charlestown (Boston). There were about 350 men in Frye’s regiment, and, with several hundred men from the other two regiments, the group totaled about 850. Poor, along with other soldiers then began to build a redoubt, or fort, on the top of Breed’s Hill, adjacent to Bunker’s Hill. The next day, the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought on June 17, 1775, which included more than 100 African American and Native American soldiers fighting for the nation’s liberty.
Salem Poor is best remembered for his actions during the Battle of Bunker Hill, where he is credited with killing British Lieutenant Colonel James Abercrombie as well as several British soldiers. Later that year, Poor’s valor and gallantry at the Battle of Bunker Hill prompted 14 officers, including Colonel William Prescott, to cite him for heroism and petition the General Court of Massachusetts with the following statement:
“To the Honorable General Court of the Massachusetts Bay: The subscribers beg leave to report to your Honorable House (which we do in justice to the character of so brave a man), that, under our own observation, we declare that a negro man, called Salem Poor, of Col. Frye’s regiment, Capt. Ames’ company, in the late battle at Charlestown, behaved like an experienced officer, as well as an excellent soldier. To set forth particulars of his conduct would be tedious. We would beg leave to say, in the person of this said negro, centers a brave and gallant soldier. The reward due to so great and distinguished a character, we submit to the Congress.”
No other soldier of the American Revolution received such recognition.
Poor immediately re-enlisted in the militia and served at Fort George in upstate New York under General Benedict Arnold in 1776. Salem fought in the Battle of White Plains on October 28, 1776, and the Battles of Saratoga in September and October of 1777, before retreating with the other patriots to the winter camp at Valley Forge in 1677-78. Later, he fought in the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, and continued to fight with the Patriot forces until March 20, 1780, when he was apparently discharged.
That year, he married his second wife, Mary Twing, a free African American. The couple briefly moved to Providence, Rhode Island. By 1785, the marriage was over and Salem married a white woman named Sarah Stevens in 1787.
Poor then married Sarah Stevens, a white woman, in 1787. In 1793 he was known to have spent several weeks in the Boston Almshouse and was briefly jailed for “breach of peace” in 1799. He married for the fourth and final time in 1801 and died in poverty in Boston in 1802. He was buried on February 5th, but the location of his grave remains unknown.
In 1975, the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp for Salem Poor in honor of his heroism during the battle.
Pioneering journalist Ethel Lois Payne was born on August 14, 1911 in Chicago, Illinois to William A. Payne and Bessie Austin. Known as the “First Lady of Black Press” for her extensive list of accomplishments as a writer, journalist, and reporter, Payne, according to her colleagues, asked questions no one else dared to ask.
Payne attended Lindblom High School which was located in a white Chicago neighborhood. Despite the unwelcoming environment, she became an accomplished student in her English and history courses. One of her English teachers encouraged Payne to write and helped her with her first submission to a magazine. The article was subsequently published. Payne pursued higher education at Crane Junior College and Garrett Biblical Institute, graduating from the latter institution in 1933. Upon graduation she decided to become a lawyer. The University of Chicago Law School, however, refused to accept her application because of her race.
Payne never became a lawyer. Nonetheless, she devoted the rest of her life and career to racial justice issues. In 1948, Payne responded to a Red Cross call-for-action to serve American forces in Japan and became a hostess for a military services social club. While in Japan, she met a reporter from the Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper, and allowed him to take her journal back to his editors. Impressed by her writing, the newspaper used her journal notes to formulate an article about racially discriminatory practices in the U.S. military in Japan. The article, the first of a series, was published on the front page of the Defender. In 1951, Payne was hired full-time by the Chicago newspaper and became the first African American woman to focus on international news coverage in addition to her national assignments.
Payne pursued assignments around the world. In 1955, she attended the Bandung Conference with the writer Richard Wright. She covered the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. In 1966, she reported from Vietnam. and the following year she covered the Biafran War. Her interviews with prominent leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Senator John F. Kennedy made her a widely known and prominent global reporter.
In 1955, Payne was one of only three black journalists to cover the White House. During one White House press conference she asked President Dwight D. Eisenhower what he was going to do to address racial disparities in the United States. His angry response made front page news the next day, but it also pushed civil rights issues to the top of the agenda for Eisenhower’s Administration and those that followed him. Her critiques carried significant influence at a time when U.S. State Department eagerly sought to depict to leaders around the world, and particularly in the new countries of Africa, the idea that American race relations were amicable.
After working with the Defender for 25 years, Payne in 1972 became the first African American woman to serve as a radio and television commentator when she was hired by CBS News. Throughout the 1980s she reported on apartheidin South Africa and worked for the release of Nelson Mandela.
Ethel Payne died at the age of 79 after a heart attack in Washington, D.C. on May 29, 1991. Her many honors included an award from the Capital Press Club in 1967 for her reporting during the Vietnam War and the TransAfrica African Freedom Award in 1987.
A Baltimore County jury awarded $37 million in damages to the family of Korryn Gaines, a black Maryland woman killed by county police in an August 2016 standoff that also injured her 5-year-old son.
The six female jurors decided in less than three hours that Cpl. Royce Ruby, the Baltimore County officer who fired the fatal shots, violated the civil rights of Gaines, 23, and her son, Kodi.
Ruby shot and killed Gaines on Aug. 1 during a confrontation in Randallstown, a suburb northwest of Baltimore City. Police serving a warrant for failure to appear in court over a traffic case kicked in the door to Gaines’s apartment to find her waiting with a shotgun. The ensuing six-hour ordeal ended when Ruby opened fire, killing Gaines and injuring Kodi.
The civil suit decision awarded more than $32 million to Kodi, $4.5 million to his toddler sister, Karsyn, and nearly a million dollars among Gaines’s parents and estate, court documents said.
Gaines family attorney J. Wyndal Gordon told The Washington Post on Saturday that the verdict was a “great decision” that will help make Gaines’s family whole after the incident. Gaines was shot four times by Ruby; one shot pierced her lungs and spine, and a ricochet struck her son, he said.
“Where is your moral compass?” Gordon asked rhetorically. “It was callous and sadistic.”
Ruby, who is white, remains on the police force and was promoted to corporal last year.
After the verdict was announced, Baltimore County Attorney Mike Field said in a statement that the county was “disappointed” by the decision and was reviewing its options, including an appeal.
“A mother died, a child was unintentionally injured and police officers were placed in mortal danger. By any account, this was a tragic situation,” Field said.
Baltimore County police spokesman Shawn Vinson told the Baltimore Sun that “the state’s attorney’s office reviewed the situation and deemed the shooting justified.” He declined to comment further.
Gaines’s mother, Rhanda Dormeus, told reporters Friday that she believed police were untruthful in testimony describing the shooting and the threat posed by Gaines.
“What we want is constitutional policing. We want them to be fair, we want them to have integrity, and we want justice,” Dormeus said. “And if they can’t do that, they shouldn’t be a part of the police force.” Since the incident, the county police department has expanded body camera wear for its officers and in 2017 began training for incidents involving people with mental-health issues. The county executive and local fraternal order of police group also did not return requests for comment.
Ruby testified that Gaines moved into the kitchen, with only her long braids and shotgun barrel visible. He fired once through a wall, believing she was raising her weapon to a firing position.
“There was no choice,” Ruby testified. “Officers were going to die if I didn’t take that shot.” He entered the room and fired three more rounds into Gaines, saying he feared that her finger was on the trigger.
Gordon disputed that version of events, saying Gaines was shot in the back, her lungs full of blood, indicating the additional shots Ruby took were unjustified.
Speaking outside the courthouse Friday, Kareem Courtney, Gaines’s boyfriend and Karsyn’s father, said taxpayers will bear the burden of the award, not Ruby.
“He’s not going to pay. He’s going to go home to his family. My family has been destroyed. My daughter’s not going to know her mother,” Courtney said, according to the Sun.
Kenneth Ravenell, the attorney for Kodi’s father, Corey Cunningham, told The Post that damages for the boy will be helpful for a lifetime of counseling and psychological treatment. Kodi explained in therapy that his mother went to make him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when she was shot, Cunningham testified.
Bearing witness to his mother’s death has jarred Kodi, his family members and teachers testified. “He’s a shell of himself,” Ravenell said, a once outgoing and happy child now introverted and sullen.
*Originally posted on the Washington Post.
The Oakland Unified School District has agreed to pay $995,000 to settle two lawsuits filed in connection with a fatal police shooting outside a school dance that was later questioned by one of the two officers present at the scene, officials said Friday.
Raheim Brown, 20, of Alameda was shot and killed Jan. 22, 2011, by Oakland schools police Sgt. Barhin Bhatt after he allegedly tried to stab another schools police sergeant, Jonathan Bellusa, with a screwdriver, authorities said.
The incident happened as Brown was sitting in the passenger seat of a Honda Accord parked on Joaquin Miller Road, not far from where Skyline High School was holding its winter ball at a nearby park.
Bhatt told investigators that he opened fire on Brown because Brown had tried to attack Bellusa. Bellusa, though, told authorities that Bhatt fired two shots at Brown’s chest before his gun jammed and that by then, Brown was already incapacitated and no longer a threat.
Bellusa said Bhatt then fired five more shots, killing Brown. Bhatt told investigators he fired the second volley because Brown continued to move and was reaching for the gearshift.
Brown’s parents, Lori Davis and Raheim Brown Sr., filed a lawsuit against the district, as did LaDonna Smith, the mother of Brown’s then-unborn child. The parents and Smith will each receive $497,500.
Of the total $995,000 payout, the district will pay a $250,000 deductible, while the rest is covered by insurance, said district spokesman Troy Flint.
David Kelvin, Smith’s attorney, said, “This young man was killed for nothing. I don’t believe you can put a price on that loss.”
An African American man has been shot and killed by police officers while holding a toy weapon.
The Utah police fatally shot 22-year-old Darrien Hunt on Wednesday. He was holding a fake samurai sword, which led some to believe he was cosplaying, or costume playing, as Mugen from the popular anime Samurai Champloo.
Hunt was killed outside the Panda Express in Sarasota Springs, Utah, after police responded to a complaint of a “suspicious individual” with a sword.
The initial police statement claimed that Hunt had “brandished the sword and lunged toward the officers with the sword” before they shot him.
Hunt’s family, however, is claiming that a private autopsy shows Hunt was shot in the back numerous times, and that multiple witnesses saw him running away from the police.
Hunt’s case is eerily similar to another recent police shooting that took place in the toy department of Walmart. On Aug. 5, John Crawford III from Dayton, Oh., was also shot and killed by police who mistook his toy weapon for a real one.
In both cases, police responded to a call of suspicious behavior. In Crawford’s case, witnesses stated that he was talking on his cellphone and leaning on a toy rifle that he had picked up while shopping in the store. Witnesses speculated that Crawford did not hear police directions for him to turn around, since he was shot while still holding his phone.
Both Utah and Ohio have open-carry laws, but the “weapon” in both of these cases was a toy—in Crawford’s case an unpackaged BB gun, in Hunt’s case a blunt-edged fake replica of a katana, or Japanese sword. Even if Hunt’s sword had been real, it is legal to publicly carry a sword under Utah’s open-carry law.
The original police statement claimed that “there is currently no indication that race played any part in the confrontation” that left Hunt dead. However, given that Saratoga Springs is a Ferguson-sized small town that is 93 percent white, many are skeptical that its 65-member police force has been completely forthcoming about the incident.
On Sunday, the Saratoga Springs police department issued a now-deleted Facebook post that called for patience with the investigation into the incident, claiming that news reports about the incident had been exaggerated:
Everyone should remember that the news outlets have ratings they need to gain. They don’t report facts. They use innuendo, opinion and rumor and then report it as fact. The same thing happens here on FB and other social media. The real facts are being determined by an independent investigation, and not in a rushed or haphazard manner. When those facts are gathered and analyzed, they will be reviewed by independent legal authorities. There is no cover up and there is no corruption. While this process is played out, we ask all persons to have patience with the process and allow the process that has been legally established to go forth. No one has been charged with any crime. The law has established that there must be probable cause for charges to be filed. Then even when and if charges were filed, in this country, all persons are innocent until proven guilty. This protection is extended to all persons, including cops.
Hunt’s mother, Susan Hunt, told the Deseret News that a picture she received from a witness taken just before the shooting shows her son standing peacefully, the sword nowhere to be seen. In the picture, he is reportedly flanked on both sides by policemen. Moments later, he would be dead.
“No white boy with a little sword would they shoot while he’s running away,” she said.
Witnesses who saw Hunt before the shooting were divided on what his behavior was before the incident, with one witness saying he appeared calm and others claiming he seemed distressed. Hunt’s outfit at the time he was killed indicated that he may have been cosplaying as Mugen from Samurai Champloo, a character who is known for his erratic behavior and large sword.
Ironically, although Mugen is a samurai, near the end of the series he ultimately walks away from violence.
Tragically for Hunt, the chance to walk away never came.