The legal lynching of Black youth

James-Cameron-Thomas-Shipp-Abram-Smith-8-7-1930-Marion-IN-1, The legal lynching of Black youth, Archives 1976-2008 Local News & Views
These two teenagers, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, were dragged from the county jail by this mob and lynched on Aug. 7, 1930, in Marion, Indiana.

by Oya Kali

I witnessed the legal lynching of two Black boys today, charged with felony counts of arson and burglary. These young men, like so many others, have been denied their right to a fair trail due to the color of their skin … black.

My students, 12-year-old Antwon and his older brother Antonio, are being held in Juvenile Hall for allegedly starting a fire which destroyed a portable at Madison Middle School last Thursday. They were turned in by a young woman who was also at the scene of the crime yet who is not being charged.

Twelve-year-old Antwon was my math student in East Oakland. A very quiet young man, known for his artwork, Antwon rarely spoke in class unless asked a question. I would always find him in the back row drawing scenes from his favorite comic books or other sources of inspiration.

This young man, according to police reports, allegedly entered Madison school property after hours to steal markers from an unlocked art classroom, because his guardians could not afford to provide art supplies for his creative energies as the are both senior citizens. At our school, due to the No Child Left Behind law, our budget is spent on mastering the California standards curriculum for passage of standardized test as opposed to culturally enriching activities, like art and music.

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This young man’s family could not afford a lawyer, so a public defender was assigned to them as counsel. The public defender did not contact the family until five minutes before the detention hearing, a hearing which could have freed young Antwon from the detention center on an electronic monitor, allowing him to spend his 13th birthday at home.

Instead the judge charged both him and his older brother Antonio with a felony count of arson for starting a fire which destroyed a portable at Madison and a felony count of burglary for stealing the markers.

The public defender had not read the young man’s case thoroughly, and when the judge falsely accused the younger sibling of being the one to start the fire, the public defender said nothing to aid in his defense, while knowing the police report cited the older brother as having confessed to the crime. It was upon leaving the courtroom that the public defender said that the young man’s name was spelled wrong and therefore the judge falsely accused him of being the culprit.

I was devastated at how cold and heartless the judicial system can be when it comes to our Black babies. Standing only 5 feet tall, barely 110 pounds, this young man looked like a baby entering the room in handcuffs.

How sad to witness the legal lynching of our Black babies. This young man Antwon is to remain in custody until after the trail. The next court appointment is on May 30.

We are working to secure a lawyer to defend these young men. We need community support. If you would like to assist this family with legal resources, please contact (510) 395-3397.

We must stand up for our right to a quality life. This case is one of millions in which our people are lynched with the paper and pen. We must put an end to the racist capitalist judicial system.

Email Oya Kali at