The Arkansas Chapter of the Commission on Religion and Racism (CORR) is calling for the resignation of Jonesboro Police Chief Michael Yates in light of the death of 21-year-old Chavis Carter, who police said shot himself in the head while handcuffed in the back of a squad car. CORR is leading a protest at the Jonesboro City Hall today at 11:30 am.
Yates, who recently claimed it would have been “quite easy” for Carter to shoot himself with his hands double-locked behind his back, has a murky history in race relations. Yates came to the Jonesboro Police Department after his controversial resignation as police chief in Americus, Georgia. The local NAACP chapter launched a campaign to get Yates fired after he conducted an illegal background check on the NAACP vice president, who publicly complained about Americus police brutality at city council meetings. Yates stepped down voluntarily in 2004.
But Yates continued to stir up controversy upon moving to Arkansas. He made headlines again during the “Obama Riot” of 2008, an altercation between police and a predominantly black crowd of students celebrating Obama’s election at Arkansas State University. According to two female witnesses, about 30 officers arrested several of the 60 or 70 celebrating students, threw them to the ground, and repeatedly kicked one man in the stomach and head. Yates told a different version of events, in which there were 200-250 students who set fire to a fence, fired weapons and attacked officers.
Scrutiny on the Jonesboro Police Department, which is 98 percent white, has grown as the investigation into Carter’s death has remained underwraps. Yates has said the dashboard camera and eyewitness accounts back up the officers’ claims that Carter shot himself, though the camera did not capture the moment of the shooting. Black community leaders have urged patience, but the lack of information has tensions running high.