|Posted on July 30, 2015 at 10:15 AM||comments (0)|
On Viewing the Video of Kindra’s Death and the History of the Chapman Family in the Rosedale Community
The history of Rosedale speaks of this community of predominantly Afrikan descent as having been in existence since the late 19th century, when a land developer by the name of Benjamin F. Roden bought great tracts of land, formed the Southern Birmingham Land Company, and began selling plots to black people, “making Rosedale the first area specifically marketed to African Americans in the Birmingham vicinity.” Another investor and businessman Theodore Smith bought land for his florist business and a green house, and land for his employees to buy as well. Smith began actively inviting many blacks to buy land east of the Southern Birmingham Land Company’s land. These purchases grew Rosedale to be 130 acres, and by 1926, Rosedale was among the three key communities— along with Edgewood and Grove Park communities-- to annex and form the City of Homewood, Alabama. Oak Grove was later annexed to Homewood as well.
As the white community of Homewood continued to prosper, increasingly oppressive Jim Crow laws of the first half of the 20th century escalated the clear demarcation between the white and black communities of Homewood, Alabama. “In 1931, responding to complaints from a few white citizens about blacks moving into areas not traditionally a part of the black section, the Homewood City Council officially delineated the African American part of town. Loveless Street (now B. M. Montgomery Street) was the western border and East Avenue (now Independence Drive) was the eastern border. The southern border was the Central Business District, which at the time ran along Central Avenue north to 8th Avenue (now 25th Court) and back south down Park Avenue (now 18th Street South), while the city limits were the northern limit.”
Kindra’s life and death are also surrounded by the context of the tolerance, inclusion, and acceptance of the Chapman Family for LBGTQ family members and friends, and the biracial aspect of their family construct, factors which the Chapman’s relate as motivations for their history of police harassment. White Homewood is extremely hegemonic and homophobic, with latent and overt racist overtones that add much of the cultural and socio-racial tensions existing between Homewood and the Rosedale Community.
As I am very familiar with the layout of the land here, the geographical area that Rosedale has now been reduced to is prime real estate in the heart of downtown Homewood. Furthermore, “[in] the 1950s and '60s, an effort was made by the city of Homewood to replace most of the community with a development known as Southgate Shopping Mall, but this plan was [sic] abandoned after a legal battle. Despite this victory, a significant portion of the neighborhood was lost during the 1960s with the construction of Robins Drive (now named Rosedale Drive), which links 18th Street South with the Highway 31/Highway 280 interchange. The neighborhood was also bisected by 18th Street as it was expanded to multiple lanes. Rosedale once covered approximately 110 acres, but now less than 30 acres of the area are residential.” Adrienne Lee, president of the Rosedale Community Development Corporation, RCDC, quotes slightly larger and smaller numbers respectively, as 130 acres with 14 acres left as residential.
As development continued to boom in downtown Homewood before the 2008 economic crash, there was an all out aggression to buy up properties in Rosedale and to rezone large tracts of land. Currently, there is less than 15 acres left of residential land in Rosedale. This land is highly strategic to Homewood’s future expansion plans, and as such, adjacent to downtown, it is prime real estate. The Rosedale Community Development Corporation formed under the leadership of Adrienne Lee in 1984, has been able to secure properties and lots under RCDC, and to revitalize neglected properties with funded assistance from Greater Birmingham Ministries.
Currently, Homewood numbers approximately 25, 000, with 79.75% White- or Caucasian American, 15.30% Black or African-American.
What could truly revitalize Rosedale is a way for its residents to form cooperative businesses that would flourish under this model, and to use that collective economic power to gain greater self-determination for the community, such as adopting a similar strategy of economic sovereignty outlined by the Magic City Agriculture Project Strategic Plan www.magiccityag.org There are huge obstacles, such as the city of Homewood’s non-recognition of Rosedale’s (or any Homewood area or property for that matter, which raises further questions) historical registry with the Alabama Historical Society; disparities in wealth distribution between the average Homewood household and the average Rosedale household; Rosedale’s increasing vulnerability to commercial land developers; and a city council that is insensitive and mercenary in regards to the demands of the people who live in Rosedale to be recognized for the community’s historical significance, and to be left unmolested by developers as citizens of the Historic Rosedale Community of Homewood, Alabama.
All of these intersections of oppression have a great, great deal to do with who really killed Kindra Darnell Chapman.
I spent some time in the spring of this year going back and forth to Rosedale on a job I had with a resident there. I took public transportation there, and walked by foot to my destination. What strikes me about Rosedale is how quiet and peaceful it seems, how neglected and neat at the same time, some properties appearing to be empty, some in need of repair, many occupied with beautiful gardens. It is almost eerily quiet, both when I came in the morning and when I left out in early afternoon. In most black communities just as in most communities of ethnic or indigenous, or immigrant, or brown, black peoples, there are distinct cultural nuances of orality and demonstrative fellowship. I saw no one walking through Rosedale but myself, no one out with their dogs walking around. If people were out, they stayed on their porch or in their yard. It was all new to me, and I enjoyed walking across Griffin Brook where I often saw a blue heron wading in the canal that carried the brook water under a street. One day I saw a youth group at the community youth garden, and later I saw them helping with yard work at a house in the community.
Recently, I have participated, along with my beloved Majadi, and Richard Rice, attorney and president of MCAP, in raising awareness about the death of #KindraDarnellChapman, an 18 year old minor who died while in police custody at Homewood City Jail July 14, 2015, after being picked up for an alleged attempted robbery of a cell phone. The circumstances surrounding her death were confusing, so we sounded an early call for answers regarding Kindra’s death in a petition through Change.org, which has gathered over 3000 signatures to date.
This awareness coupled with protests led by BLM-Birmingham activists led to news of Kindra’s death being picked up by activists around the country along with #SandraBland. Since these events, there have been further public demands by the Chapman Family for their questions to be answered, many of which have been articulated via video footage of Linda Chapman, Kindra’s paternal grandmother, who had custody and raised Kindra for eight years. Other efforts to reach the public with Kindra’s story include video of the Chapman Family’s concerns uploaded by BLM-Birmingham; a community gathering in Rosedale to honor Kindra, share information, and to voice concerns; a memorial service at Bushelon Funeral Home; a vigil at Homewood Central Park which drew hundreds of supporters, friends, and family members; and numerous published articles and Twitter messages reporting on Kindra’s death.
Questions still remain regarding her death but take it on good authority, there is evidence supporting the possibility that Kindra did take her own life.
Yet, video footage also shows a compelling and disturbing subtext of a police department’s outright neglect of a clearly distressed young person, one who felt agitated and upset, who clearly signaled numerous times for help, who was crying out desperately for help in the minutes before her death.
Furthermore, there appears to be a history of aggression against Kindra and many members of the Chapman Family by Homewood Police Department, a tumultuous relationship between the two that spans decades and which includes systematic harassment, persecution, threats, and racist oppressions. The questions that remain from the Chapman Family members include: a very questionable arrest of this young person; the possibility of the lack of proper intake and assessment to gauge her likelihood to inflict self-harm during the heightened stress, fear and isolation experience under incarceration; bruises on her deceased body that are not accounted for by the autopsy; and large chunks of time missing in Kindra’s transport to, processing at, and detention in Homewood City Jail.
Even more disturbing is that the video shows Kindra’s motionless body hanging for more than an hour before she was finally discovered and resuscitation efforts were performed to revive her. Tragically, Kindra was already gone long before they attempted to bring her back.
The greater context of Kindra’s life and death
Kenneth King, historian, writes, “What's going in [Birmingham] is a reflection of the broader situation, unaccountable [police departments] and the struggle to make our lives matter and mean something.” King further responds, “A quick read on Rosedale suggests to me a scenario similar to the Sea Island Gullah Geechee struggles over land. Increased property tax and other gentrifying acts as modes to land grab under the guise of restoration. Yep, background on historic Rosedale I briefed over reads familiar. Among Gullah Geechee old family cemeteries as well as family land under threat of being lost. Global capitalism is the now frontal assault, history nor lineage means anything. As for policing, of course Black bodies have been feared since our bonded arrival and the beginnings of slave patrols.”
On July 28, an article published at Workers.org and written by Minnie Bruce Pratt connects the most important dots in the issues surrounding Kindra’s death. Pratt provides a brief insight into some of the dynamics surrounding the history of the Rosedale Community within the city of Homewood, AL, and the history the Chapman Family has experienced with Homewood Police Department. The article is well presented and researched, and presents a good starting point to look at the wider issues surrounding Kindra’s death as a failure on many levels to create an environment in which Kindra lived, such as Kindra’s identification as a gay person, the acceptance Kindra experienced by her paternal family on one hand and community, and the police harassment the Chapman family has experienced for decades on the other.
Udja Temple’s work in support of Kindra and the Chapman Family
I, along with Majadi, was blessed to be invited to accompany Richard R. Rice, attorney and president of MCAP to counsel with and interview the Chapman Family about their remaining questions and demands on Monday evening July 27 2015. We went to the home of Linda Chapman and Otis Chapman in an area of Eastern Birmingham called Roebuck. Linda describes her decision to ultimately leave her home of over thirty years in Rosedale, where she has long generational roots, and despite it being nearly paid off, to protect her family from further harassment and to have “some peace,” free of the constant police surveillance, hunting, and harassment of her family members.
The neighborhood in which the Chapman Family home sits in Roebuck is indeed quiet and peaceful, but is a peace that has come with a price—the price of uproot and disenfranchisement. Linda is referring to the peace she felt once she left Rosedale, a sentiment her husband expressed as well. Otis describes the tension he still feels whenever he must go to Rosedale, which is not often anymore. Linda describes her decision to leave with pent up pain that overflows as she says the words that struck me most deeply throughout our entire exchange. In describing how she was so relieved to have gotten her family out of Rosedale, her voice catches as she chokes out, “But they got one. They got My Baby. They got one.” The pain in her eyes is indescribable, and beyond that, a crystalline resolve to fight for justice for Kindra. Now the peace the Chapman Family sought is no longer as they struggle to cope with the tragic death of Kindra and the injustice they will continue to fight and express as Kindra’s case unfolds.
The Viewing of the Video
We accompanied Rice to support the Chapman family, which included her grandparents, her aunts, and a cousin. The father was not able to bear watching the video, and the mother is letting her legal counsel act on her behalf.
“I don’t believe she killed herself. That video didn’t show me nothing,” said Linda at the conclusion of the viewing which took two weeks and a second visit for the Chapman family to be shown the video in its entirety. Other family members reacted with further questions about Kindra’s clear state of distress and fear, her total neglect for over an hour by guards and jail administration, and questions about how she was processed
Before the viewing, there seemed to be a genuinely expressed concern for the psychological welfare of the surviving family relayed by Jefferson County DA Brandon Falls in the preliminary questions he asked of the Chapman Family prior to the viewing. Falls asked questions that were understandable but rather irrelevant and culturally insensitive for the purpose of the Chapman Family appearing at the courthouse that day. The Chapman Family came to see for their own eyes the video that shows Kindra taking her own life—can anyone blame them? Falls asks early on, “May I ask this? Why do you want to see this video?” He wanted to know why the Chapman family would endure the horror of seeing their own kin commit suicide. Falls mentioned that he was aware of “what’s going on around the country,” but did not elaborate beyond that point. What he did not comprehend was that this family, the Chapman Family, would in no way be denied access to the video. A failure to understand why the family would not want to see it shows that Falls may not actually know about “what’s going on around the country,” let alone in his own backyard of Homewood, and the nearly daily reports of black women, men, and lbgtq folks dying in police custody around the country.
The issues are further compounded because there is an indeterminate next of kin outside of Kindra’s parents, and outside of her mother’s custody of her as a minor until the age of 19 in Alabama. Linda Chapman had legal custody of Kindra for eight years of her 18 year old life. Her mother had been given back custody of Kindra two years ago and Kindra had been living with her and a younger brother for the last two years in another part of Homewood. The family’s grief is also compounded by the feeling that Kindra was doing well when she was with Linda’s household, and that things began to fall apart for her when she was uprooted from Linda’s care.
There are other circumstances surrounding Kindra’s mother, but I have yet to meet her or hear her story so I will not go into it here. Suffice it to say that at the time of her death, despite having attended Homewood schools while she lived in Rosedale with her grandmother, father and cousins, Kindra was not enrolled in high school and had left school in the ninth grade. An antidepressant was found in her bloodstream, Alprazolam, and her mother was receiving disability benefits for Kindra on her behalf. Her level of mental and emotional health during the days preceding her death is unclear; some, most, say she was as vibrant as she always was, others say she had become despondent at tensions in her home with her mother in Homewood. Kindra frequently visited the Chapman home in Roebuck, and Linda her grandmother last saw her on July 4th. Linda says she never had a problem with Kindra’s behavior, and Kindra was very close with her aunts and cousins.
Linda and Otis remain convinced because of the ambiguity of the video that she did not commit suicide. Neither of her parents have watched the video and are deferring to the lawyers representing the mother’s interest. As a witness to the video, I can see their doubt but it looks like she was the one to stop herself from breathing. The video also shows blatant disregard for her safety and welfare, as though her precious young life matters not a whit. Yet, the overarching question remains—who is responsible and accountable for her death? We posit that it is the City of Homewood and the Homewood Police Department.
“Kindra took her own life… America killed her.” ~Rev Majadi Baruti, Chief Priest, Udja Temple Ministries.
The circumstances surrounding Kindra’s death remain deeply problematic and questionable, but one truth remains-- Kindra’s lived experience as a person for which the intersections of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and perhaps, ability, all converge at the moment of her death on July 14, 2015, in Homewood City Jail.
What action do we now, all of us, take for #JusticeforKindra?
Addendum: We launched a fundraiser late last night on July 29 to help with funeral expenses, but we stopped it this morning. Kindra’s body has been cremated.