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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sheriff Morgan: The Burning of Mr. Keshwon Stallworth's Body Is 'Funny'

Ms. Sheard told me that it was "not funny about his body burning.  They are taking the last vision from me.  There is nothing funny about that all.  It is just shocking what the Sheriff said.  Really shocking.  It makes me feel that they are not really going to investigate his murder; that they really don't care about Keshwon and all the other young Black men who have been senselessly killed."  (April 10, 2015)

"I know somebody knows.  Too many people are talking about it.  Somebody knows who did this.  I just want somebody to say something so I can lay my little brother down."  Keshwon Stallworth's brother, Xavier McShan, to WEAR television report Rob L. Brown, March 13, 2015.

Background to the Killing of Keshwon Stallworth

The late Mr. Keshwon Stallworth, son of Ms. Sheranda Sheard, was brutally murdered in the "early hours" of March 6, 2015.  According to a WEAR written report based on a live report from the family's "candlelight vigil" at a "makeshift memorial," Mr. Stallworth had been "shot and burned beyond recognition."  His killer(s) are not known and there are no suspects.  HERE

According to the same WEAR report, the "Escambia County Sheriff's Office said the killing may be gang related, though they did not say if or how Keshwon may have been involved in the gang."

This statement is typical of the ECSO.  While even the accused are presumed to be innocent, the ECSO considers virtually every homicide of a young Black male to be gang related--leaving the impression that the victim was a member of a criminal gang rather than innocent victim.

Sheriff Morgan thought the burning of Keshwon Stallworth's body was "funny."

Mr. Outzen's written presentation of what Sheriff Morgan said on the radio show reads:  "This young man was involved in criminal activity, drugs.  There was some marijuana measuring devices and scales in the car that were not incinerated.  Here a young man, again, engaged in a very high-risk behavior and paid the price for that.  As you well know, the drug trade is a very violent trade."  HERE

But, that is not really an accurate representation of what Sheriff Morgan actually said.

Starting at the 3:45 mark and ending at the 4:25 mark here is what Sheriff Morgan actually stated (my own transcript with emphasis added):

"This young man [Mr. Keshwon Stallworth] was, I will release this, he was involved in criminal activity, drugs.  There was some marijuana measuring devices and scales in the car that were not incinerated.  It's funny when you have a fire, what burns and what does not burn.  I mean it was obvious that it was in the vehicle, it had been damaged obviously by the heat of the fire.  But there were weights and measures for the distribution of marijuana.  Of course, we want to interview some other folks who were around there.  And so, here a young man was engaged in very high risk behavior and he paid the price for that.  As you well know, the drug trade is a violent trade."

Not only was Mr. Stallworth's body burnt "beyond recognition" "funny," according to the Sheriff, but Sheriff Morgan opened the show with "demonizing" language characterizing Mr. Mr. Stallworth and all young Black males in Escambia County as "Super Predators" (see the accompanying CJ's Street Report).

Ms. Sheard told me that it was "not funny about his body burning.  They are taking the last vision from me.  There is nothing funny about that all.  It is just shocking what the Sheriff said.  Really shocking.  It makes me feel that they are not really going to investigate his murder; that they really don't care about Keshwon and all the other young Black men who have been senselessly killed."

When told that Sheriff Morgan had described her son Keshwon as a "Super Predator," her immediate reaction was, "bullshit."  She said, "Keshwon was not a super predator."  She added, "They don't know Keshwon.  Just because he went to an alternative school for kids with disciplinary problems, they can't judge Keshwon."

A "Super Predator," as explained in the accompanying article is an "urban legend" based upon "junk science" having "no evidence" and amounting to nothing more than "racist speculation."

The only evidence that Mr. Stallworth may have been associated with marijuana is the measuring devices in the car.  But, the Sheriff did not state where the scales had been found in relationship to his body.  The Sheriff presented no evidence that Mr. Stallworth had ever owned or used those particular measuring devices in question.  Maybe someone else had put them in the car.  And, the Sheriff presented no evidence that the measuring devices had anything to do with Mr. Keshwon's murder.  There is simply a correlation that measuring devices, that may or may not have been used to measure marijuana, were in the same car as Mr. Stallworth.

This Street Report compares who Keshwon Stallworth was, according to his family, with who Keshwon Stallworth was according to Sheriff Morgan.

A Portrait of Keshwon Stallworth and a Story of Devastating Loss

Keshwon's sister, Shaquavia Sheard, told WEAR television reporter Rob L. Brown how devastated she was by his murder: "I don't know if I'm happy.  I don't know if I'm mad. I feel empty.  I feel lost.  I feel confused."

Keshwon's brother, Xavier McShan, told Mr. Brown of his own anger and emptiness:  "I know somebody knows.  Too many people are talking about it.  Somebody knows who did this.  I just want somebody to say something so I can lay my little brother down."

And Ms. Sheard told the WEAR reporter, "I'm hurt.  You understand what I'm saying?  That was my baby.... You could've took all my money and my furniture and my materialistic items.  But don't take away what I brought here.... I just want to know why.  Was it worth it?  Was it that important.?"   HERE

On April 10th, I interviewed Ms. Sheard at her home in Pensacola.

Ms. Sheard described her son, whom she nicknamed "Pooh," in a loving and honest way:  "He was an average teenager.  He loved animals, video games, especially football videos.  He loved sports and he was a 'sweet person.'  He was a 'momma's boy.'  He was my youngest child and he would always follow me around from room to room.  We always did stuff together.  My other children used to tease him for tattle talking."  She added that Keshwon "had his own mind" and was "determined."  In other words, he was a typical teenager.

Ms. Sheard did not believe her son Keshwon was selling drugs.  One day before he died, on Thursday (March 5th), he had asked his mother for money because he had none.  She did not believe any of his friends were selling drugs because they played video games in her house.  She told me that she preferred that Keshwon and his friends play in the house rather than being out on the street.

In the last couple of months, Keshwon was applying for fast food jobs using phone apps.

The Criminalization of Normal Human Behavior

I asked Ms. Sheard about Keshwon's schooling.  She told me that he "didn't like school" and that he had been sent to In-School Suspension (I-SS).  She explained to me that I-SS was another classroom where the young teens were sent to do extra work, while being confined to the room to eat their lunch.  As she described I-SS to me, it sounded like solitary confinement for teenagers--locked away from their classmates and neighbors, eating lunch alone, and guarded constantly.

I asked her why her son had been sent to In-School Suspension.  She told me that whenever he was sent to I-SS, the school would call her and explain that he had been "talking out of turn."  I asked her if he had ever been sent to I-SS for violent behavior?  "No."  Had he ever been sent to I-SS for gang-related behavior?  "No."  Had his teachers who saw him every day ever sent him to I-SS for anything that was "drug-related"?  "No," she responded.

In other words, Keshwon was sent to quasi-solitary confinement in school for "talking out of turn."  But, none of his teachers had sent him to I-SS for violence, gang, or drug-related behaviors.

Ms. Sheard said, "He wasn't perfect.  Nobody is perfect."  But, who is perfect?  Nobody on this planet can pass the "perfect" test--not even Jesus who had a Roman criminal record.  (For a discussion of how individual Black male imperfection is used by white Americans as an indicator of Black cultural depravity and proclivity to violence see Joan Walsh, Chauncey DeVega, and Ta-Nehesi Coates.)

But, Keshwon's trouble with the law, if you want to call it that, is really about a society that criminalizes ordinary Black human behavior that is not in any sense criminal.

Keshwon's problems with law enforcement started when he was 11- or 12-years old.  One day Kershwon got into a fight with one of his older sisters, who are six and seven years older than he is.  In other words, at the time, they were bigger and heavier than he was.  Ms. Sheard was not able to stop the fight physically, so she called the Sheriff's Office.  The Sheriff's Office arrested Keshwon.

Now, it is important to put this arrest into the context of what Sheriff Morgan told Rick Outzen on the Pensacola Voice radio show.  Speaking about his anecdotal claim that drug gangs in Pensacola are using younger and younger children to sell drugs, the Sheriff stated (at 5:50 to 6:07):  "You know the courts tend to be very lenient in working towards rehabilitation because our goal is to save young people, not to incarcerate everyone we catch because its not productive to society, it's not only a drain on the criminal justice system, its a drain on taxpayers.  The goal is rehabilitation, not incarceration."  HERE

So, does the Sheriff think that arresting an 11- or 12-year old Keshwon Stallworth for fighting with his sister is consistent with his philosophy of "rehabilitation, not incarceration"?

From this arrest, Keshwon was sent to Probation.  One morning, he overslept and missed a court appearance resulting in a Contempt of Court charge, according to Ms. Sheard.  Then, one night as he walking past a house that had been broken into in the Montclair neighborhood he was arrested by the Sheriff's Office.  His mother bailed him out.  Keshwon adamantly rejected the idea of a plea deal and was going to demand a trial as an adult because he had not committed any crime.

Concluding Observation

Every Black mother I have interviewed for the Street Report or just talked to casually in the community always explains that their son was "no angel" or he "was not perfect," as if being an angel or being perfect is even attainable.  Even Jesus had a Roman criminal record before he died.

Mainstream media, including even the supposedly liberal New York Times engage in this smearing of young Black men who are killed.  Michael Brown was "no angel," according to the newspaper.

Chauncey DeVega, the eponymous founder of We Are Respectable Negroes, wrote that "The news media 'humanizes' white criminals, presenting a narrative of a good person who somehow went wrong.  By comparison, black and brown 'criminals' are monsters.  Thus, there is no effort to psychologize, explain, or understand what would motivate the latter to break the law.... The news media's desire to niggerize Michael Brown is greater than the obligation to locate his life within a broader context.  This is a function of old fashioned racism, implicit bias, and a deep American cultural belief that black people are inherently pathological and dysfunctional."  HERE

Ta-Nehisi Coates, another of the young, insightful public intellectuals writing on race in America's history, laws, and consciousness, noted that "The 'angelic' standard was not created by the reporter.  It was created by a society that cannot face itself, and thus must employ a dubious 'morality' to hide its sins.  It is reinforced by people who have embraced the notion of 'twice as good' while avoiding the circumstances which gave that notion birth.  Consider how easily living in a community 'with rough patches' becomes part of a list of ostensible sins.  Consider how easily 'black-on-black crime' becomes not a marker of a shameful legacy of segregation but a moral failing."  HERE

Tom Hayden, a former state senator in California, wrote in the December 2005 Los Angeles Times of the pernicious effects of the myth of the Super Predator in providing the ideological excuse for the profit-driven expansion of the prison industrial complex and the distortion of public policy preferences.  Hayden wrote that the city budget of Los Angeles "reveals that the priority is to suppress and incarcerate, not to turn troubled lives around.  Fifty-five million dollars go to LAPD gang suppression efforts, a token $12 million to prevention programs for little kids, and a bare $2 million for intervention programs meant to channel teenagers away from violent paths."  HERE

I would be curious to learn if any social scientists in the Pensacola area can document a similar distribution of public money in Escambia County?

What I do know from talking to mothers and activists is that Escambia County does not provide basic things for Black children.  Some of the neighborhoods in the county portion of Pensacola are still waiting for street lights to cut down on crime; for surveillance cameras; for upgraded paved streets; for better schools; for more public transportation and later hours; for clean water; and, for less environmental pollution near communities of color, like in Wedgewood.

And, what of the young mothers and fathers with children working in Escambia County?  They need to earn a living wage of $15 dollars an hour.  They need subsidized day care.  They need an outreach program from local government to get them into the mental health system.

Someone killed Keshwon Stallworth.  But, Keshwon was victimized by Escambia County long before he was brutally murdered.  He was branded a criminal before he even turned 13.

And, in death, the Sheriff is still assaulting Keshwon, suggesting without evidence that he may have been involved in a gang, and, that his being burnt "beyond recognition" was "funny."

And, despite coming from a family who loved Keshwon deeply, who was a "momma's boy" and a "sweet person," Sheriff Morgan chose to deliberately call Keshwon Stallworth a "Super Predator."

In the next article, I will show that this "Super Predator" concept is not only believed by Sheriff Morgan, but that the concept itself is based on "junk science" and amounting to little more than "racist speculation."


  1. There is without doubt a huge gap between the Sheriff and the minority community. Perhaps another Sheriff, more effective community policing, and/or better representation of the minority community would begin to reduce conflict. Somehow that needs to happen. We all need to assure that our elected representatives know and understand or elect those that do.
    the elephant in the room is that the culture in many of our neighborhoods is very different from Sheriff Morgan's experience and continues to fuel arguments about crime. A caring Escambia county would work together to lessen those cultural barriers. Differences in race, religion, economic status all get in the way. There's more than the Sheriff to blame ( although he could do much more to help.

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