Who is Quawan “Bobby” Charles, and why are some comparing his death to Emmett Till?
The 15-year-old’s death has sparked demonstrations in rural Iberia Parish, Louisiana, a densely populated county where African Americans comprise about 31 percent of its residents.
According to multiple reports and photos circulating the internet, Quawan’s battered body was found by authorities sometime during or after Halloween night.
Police have not confirmed where and exactly when they found Quawan’s body, but family members have claimed it was discovered in a sugar cane field not far from his home.
A photo shows the teen’s face badly discolored and swollen, with parts of his jaw exposed and skin missing. There are bruises on his forehead.
“Many say Charles’ body resembles 14-year-old Emmett Till who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after being accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store,” reported the news website, The NC Beat, which published a side-by-side photo comparison of Quawan Charles and Emmett Till.
Law enforcement officials in Louisiana have not confirmed the authenticity of Quawan’s photo.
Investigators have noted that they’re still processing evidence, interviewing various individuals, and are awaiting autopsy results.
“The disrespect [from law enforcement] and lack of transparency are unacceptable,” ACLU of Louisiana executive director Alanah Odoms Hebert wrote in a statement.
“We join the family in demanding a full and transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Bobby’s death,” Hebert continued. “This family is grieving and deserves answers – not disrespect and stonewalling.”
Demonstrators have reportedly questioned the possibility that the case involves foul play.
Many gathered along with Quawan’s family on Wednesday, Nov. 11, outside of the Iberia Parish Courthouse to demand more information be released.
“We are here to demand justice for a family of people who gruesomely lost their loved one, a 15-year-old child who was found in a way that just breaks my heart,” demonstrator Jamal Taylor told Louisiana’s WAFB-TV.
“Members of law enforcement have done what they do well, which is deny and hide behind a pending investigation. This family deserves answers,” Taylor remarked.
Ron Haley, the attorney representing Quawan’s family, also chided authorities for their lack of transparency.
“There are certain circumstances where I absolutely understand – and I think anybody would – why things aren’t made [available] to the public,” Haley told WAFB.
“But let’s talk specifically about Bobby Charles. His family should know…His mother and father should be made aware of every step of this investigation.”
Racial tensions have routinely boiled over in Iberia Parish, where lynching of Black people became a regular occurrence following Reconstruction.
A blistering 2018 article published in The Acadiana Advocate reported that the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office had employed a violent gang with racist tendencies and batons.
According to the report, deputies in the Sheriff Department’s elite narcotics squad routinely beat suspects, and sometimes just random African Americans they confronted.
“Some of the same deputies fabricated reports, made bogus arrests and lied under oath to cover their tracks,” the newspaper reported. “And to hear federal prosecutors tell it, Sheriff Louis Ackal was the architect of the whole thing.”
Not long after he took office, in 2008, three of Ackal’s drug agents got caught jumping two young black residents just for kicks.
Ackal allegedly dismissed the matter as “just another case of n*****-knocking,” a comment deputies said made the rounds of the narcotics squad and set a free-swinging tone for years of abuse.
Nearly a dozen Iberia Parish deputies would eventually confess to civil rights violations, and several agreed to testify against their boss over the biggest policing scandal in Louisiana in a decade.
But then Ackal beat the rap in 2016 and came back to town.
Quawan’s family has started a GoFundMe to help pay for an independent autopsy. The site also contains a graphic photo of the teen’s body.
So far, the effort has raised more than $65,000 against its original $15,000 goal.
“According to Eugene Weatherspoon Collins of the Baton Rouge NAACP, Quawan Charles was lynched just like Emmett Till,’” Baton Rouge activist Gary Chambers wrote this week on Facebook.
“There is no other way to put it.”