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Will anyone remember Charles Oatman?

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aint_no_life_nowhere Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu May-05-05 01:38 AM
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Will anyone remember Charles Oatman?
May 9, 1970, nearly thirty-five years ago, sixteen-year-old Charles Oatman was beaten and tortured by the police in the Richmond County jail in Augusta, Georgia. The police initially claimed that the cause of death was a fall from his bunk. The coroner's report concluded the 104 lb. Oatman had died of a "severe beating" and that his body bore cigarette burn marks where he'd been tortured. Two days later, May 11, 1970, six African Americans were shot dead by the police in the demonstrations over Oatman's tragic death.

"...The day after Agnew's speech, Mrs. Carrie Mays co-operator of a "mom and pop" funeral parlor in Augusta, Ga. was confronted with the remains of yet another black mother's vain hopes and vicarious pain: the body of sixteen-year-old Charles Oatman, just received from the city jail. "He had been beaten something awful," she recounted later, "and there were cigarette burns on his hands and feet and and and, well, there were burns on his buttocks, too."<57> When county medical examiner Dr. Irvine Phinizy learned of the condition of the boy's 104-lb. body, he did an autopsy over the strenuous objections of the local authorities. He concluded that Oatman had died of "pulmonary edema, bilateral; and subdural hemorrhage, moderate, due to severe beatings." He also noted that the corpse was covered with "contusions, abrasions, scratches,, and minor lacerations," as well as "roughly circular lesions that were healing burns that could have been caused by a cigarette pressed against the skin" All the skin lesions were of varying age.<58>

Meanwhile Ms. Mays' less scientific description of the corpse had been circulating through the black community. That evening, about two hundred blacks gathered in the city park and walked over to the jail to confront the police. Sheriff E. F. Atkins informed them that Oatman had died as a result of falling off his cot and hitting his head on the floor. The sheriff retreated on this the next day, announcing that two of the dead boy's cellmates were being charged with murder. It came too late. Black leaders marched on the city-county building to protest while around five hundred of their followers demonstrated outside. They pulled down the American and Georgia flags, and handed the American flag to a black policeman. They burned the Georgia flag.

Backed by twenty of his men with rifles leveled at the crowd, police captain Jim Beck widely detested in the black community, faced them down. The crowd fragmented and started drifting downtown. Some of its members begin throwing things into storefront windows and at passing cars. Black leaders, pleading with police that they be allowed to restore calm, hastened to the scene. But before they could arrive, the police fired tear gas into the crowd. It re-fragmented into smaller packs that lobbed firebombs into and looted white- and Chinese-owned stores, and pulled whites from their cars and beat them. Then the sun went down. It rose again over a burned-out ghetto business district. Six people lay dead in the ashes, all of them black males, all of them shot in the back with the standard police load of 00-buckshot. Three had been bystanders. Two were killed in stores that were being looted. No one has established why the sixth was shot.<59> ..."
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