What a horrific story, "Baby Shot Dead in Stroller"! On the video later in this post, you will see Sherry West, the mother of a 13-month old boy in Brunswick, Georgia, who was shot in the face and died instantly. West says that Baby Antonio was shot by two young black males (ages 14 and 17).
Sadly, it's possible that it happened just as the mother said it did, and yes, yes, I'm outraged and sad. If the boys did what West claims, they must be punished. But as you many have already guessed by my use of the word if, I'm not yet sure that these boys should be the target of anyone's outrage yet. These boys, though they definitely are real and not phantoms, may merely be serving in the mother's story as the mysterious black man.
Oh, no! You may be thinking that this black blogger is horrible. How can that blogger possibly suggest that the mother would make up such a horrific story about her baby? Surely a mother would not make up trying to give her baby CPR at a blue house on the corner after he'd been brutally shot in the face? How can that blogger doubt the poor woman?
I'll tell you how: Susan Smith, South Carolina, 1994.
In 1994, Susan Smith, a white woman who seemed much more genuinely distraught than West does in the video below, went crying before television cameras pleading for the return of her two young children. She claimed that a black man had abducted them, but it turned out that Susan Smith was lying. She had killed her own children; she had locked them in their car seats and rolled her car into a South Carolina lake. Then she blamed who she thought would be a believable suspect, the mysterious black man.
The sheriff in Susan Smith's case, a white man, played along, but in reality, he doubted her story from the beginning, and so did I back then.
In the current case of Sherry West, the two boys she described have now been arrested:
Chief Tobe Green of the Brunswick Police Department said that Demarquis Elkins, 17, and a 14-year-old unidentified suspect whose name has been withheld because of his age, were arrested early this morning in connection with the baby's death, and both have been charged with first-degree murder.I don't know whether Brunswick's Sheriff Tobe Green (a black man) doubts West's story. He may be inclined to believer her since times have changed since 1994. Almost every time you turn on local evening news in some cities, it seems that a black male pops up who's been involved with a shooting. So, it may be more difficult these days for some police officers to think of young black males as innocent until proven guilty. But I hope the law enforcement officers in this case will also recall that young black males are most often shooting each other, not white women and their babies.
Green is also in a different power dynamic than the South Carolina sheriff was. It may be more difficult for a black sheriff in a southern town to launch a full investigation that challenges the story of a white mother. I'm not saying that it is more difficult, but that it may be.
Another factor that comes to my mind is that Brunswick, Georgia, is not Chicago or New Orleans or Philadelphia or Camden, New Jersey. Brunswick, Georgia, is a small town. Is it possible that West has seen these young men elsewhere? Is it possible that these boys, who may be known trouble makers in town, are only guilty of skipping school that day?
Also, here's a good question that one of my friends asked on Facebook when I said this story reminds me of the Susan Smith tragedy: "There is something strange about a mother talking that way, with that level of organized detail, after she supposedly saw her baby shot in the head. CPR? And why would they be cold-blooded enough to shoot a baby but not kill the only witness to their deed? A lot of this doesn't make sense."
Another friend commented, "Sooooo much detail voluntarily at this time of grief, looking down as she tells the story."
West's story seems even stranger for another reason: its timing. What a coincidence that this crime happened so soon after a Chicago story about another baby being shot by black males "while her dad was changing her diaper." As it turns out, the diaper change part of that tragedy is not true, and already the police are turning back on the father suggesting he has gang ties. Either way, a baby is dead.
But I cannot dismiss all the media attention that the Chicago story received and that Ms. West, like so many others, must have heard the story, too. She may have heard the story, as many others have, and sensed the outrage and recognized the sympathy directed at Baby Jonyla's parents. Baby Jonyla is the 6-month-old pictured at the left.
Whether I'm very wrong here or very right, I do not know. Either way, another baby is dead.
In the meantime, over at websites such as the Huffington Post, visitors are quick to call for the execution of these black boys and label them savages. So much for innocent until proven guilty in America. And I continue to think of Susan Smith and other cases in which a white female accused black males of crimes they did not commit.
Lest anyone think I'm having these thoughts simply because I am black, I'll point out that I'm not the only person who thinks of Susan Smith as they hear about little Antonio's death. Others, both black and white, who recall the Smith case have been thinking that the West tragedy feels strangely familiar as you can see at this forum discussion. Also, in the video below from the Brunswick police department's press conference before the arrest of the boys, I get the sense that not everyone in that town buys the mother's story.
Related, new post: CNN reports of this story versus Atlanta Journal Constitution story.