“Why Isn’t Quawan Charles Trending?”: Another Grave Injustice in the Handling of Black Bodies

On Nov. 3, Quawan “Bobby” Charles, a Black 15-year-old, was found dead with his body mutilated in a sugar cane near the village of Loreauville, La., about 20 miles from his father’s home in Baldwin—a city of about 2,500. His funeral services were held on Saturday, Nov. 21.

The handlings of his disappearance are being called “absent and negligent” at best.

Charles’s body was quickly found after law authorities in Iberia Parish pinged his cell phone. But during the first 60 hours of his disappearance, Charles’s local police parish of Baldwin, La., neglected to trace his phone—possibly costing Charles his life.

The official cause of death, according to an autopsy report by the Iberia Parish coroner, is “likely drowning.” The report also indicated Charles did not sustain any injuries before his death. But due to the sheer condition and disfiguration of his body, Celina Charles, a cousin serving as the Charles family spokesperson, called this explanation “bogus.”

“His face says different,” she said. 

Charles’s mother, Roxanne Nelson, first reported her son missing on Oct. 30 around 3 p.m. after he did not respond to several phone calls from his mother and repeated door knocks from his father, Kenneth Jacko, at Jacko’s house. According to Nelson, after reporting Charles missing, her concern was met with dismissal, as officers told her not to worry about the safety of her son.

“They told her things such as ‘Look, he’s probably at a football game; He’s probably with some friends.’ Basically, don’t worry about it,” Haley recounted to The Root.

At this time, no Amber Alert was issued for Charles. The police department took a report, according to Haley, but did not indicate over the next several days if or how they had been searching for the disappeared teen.

Three days after Charles first disappeared (just before discovering his body), a friend of Quawan’s mentioned that he had seen him getting into a car with a white woman and her 17-year-old son, Janet Irvin and her son Gavin Irvin—reportedly the last two people to have seen Charles alive. Irvin maintains that her and her son’s involvement in Charles’s disappearance is nonexistent. 

“She was very coy in regards to what happened with Bobby after they picked him up,” said Haley. “But we know Bobby didn’t tell his father that he was leaving.” 

The facts of this case call into question the possibility of Charles’s death being racially motivated, and local activists—such as local advocacy group Stand Black—as well as national groups like the ACLU are rallying behind the Charles family, using their stature to further pressure local Louisiana law enforcement officials into taking action.

“Systemic racism and bias is not just pulling someone over on the highway, or the police shooting them while unarmed,” said Ron Haley, another Charles family attorney. “It goes deeper; it’s a lack of empathy.”

“Regardless of whether this was racially motivated or not, regardless of what the situation surrounding his death may be, the fact that the police departments didn’t act the way they would’ve acted if Quawan was a 15-year-old white girl named Katie—that’s the problem,” Andre Arceneaux, founder of Stand Black, told The New York Times.

Quawan, called “Bobby,” is described by his family as a quiet boy who loved animals and the outdoors.

A History of Indifference Toward Black Bodies in the U.S.

Celina Charles has likened the death of her cousin Quawan to the murder of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old Black boy violently tortured and brutally lynched in rural Mississippi in 1955. Like Emmitt’s mother Mamie Till, Charles’s family has also chosen to release photos of Quawan’s facial disfiguration (warning: explicit) to the public to urge people to demand justice.

As more facts unfold, the alleged mishandling of the Charles case is taking its place amidst a larger narrative of societal and structural indifference when it comes to Black bodies.

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Recall in 2014, after Darren Wilson shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old Black boy, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, police officials left Brown’s lifeless body unveiled in the middle of the street for four hours.

Just under six years later, in May 2020, the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis shocked the nation as Derek Chauvin, the officer allegedly responsible for Floyd’s death, kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds—ignoring Floyd’s cries and protestations of, “I can’t breathe.”

The disrespect of Black bodies in America and other colonial imperialist countries of course runs deep: Recall the mistreatment of Saartjie Baartman (1789-1815), seen by many as “the epitome of colonial exploitation and racism.” For years, she was paraded around throughout the continent of Europe like an animal because of her bodily features—most notably her large buttocks. After her death in 1815, her body was also dismembered and put on display in the Museum of Man in Paris, and was not taken off display until 1975. 

Take Action

As the news broke about Charles’s tragic death, many took to social media to express their disappointment and demand justice for Quawan Charles—such as Bernice King, daughter of civil rights icons Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

Mari Copeny—also known as Little Miss Flint, a youth activist from Flint, Michigan—also tweeted, asking “Why isn’t #QuawanCharles trending?”

So what can Ms. readers do raise awareness for this case and demand justice for Charles?

  1. To show support and solidarity with the Charles family, you can donate to the family’s GoFundMe
  2. Repost and re-share news regarding this case on social media. Raising awareness is the first step in ensuring that Charles and his family receive justice. 

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Sarah-Renee Garner is a recent graduate of Grambling State University with a B.A. in Mass Communication. She currently works for Feminist Majority Foundation as a National Campus Organizer for the Southern Region, and is passionate about dispelling the negative relationships and beliefs that people have with their sexuality. She has dedicated her time on sexual education campaigns, various sexual education studies, and is currently pursuing a degree in Sex Therapy. She is also passionate about activism centered around empowering BIPOC youth to create the change they wish to see in their individual communities and communities abroad.