August 25, 2016

The Pain Of Police Killings Can Last Decades

I have a piece over at NPR Code Switch today, about the 1962 police slaying of black Army Cpl. Roman Ducksworth, Jr. in Taylorsville, Miss.

Roman Ducksworth in uniform. The Army Corporal was shot to death by a white Mississippi police officer in 1962. (Courtesy of Cordero Ducksworth and the Syracuse Cold Case Justice Initiative)Roman Ducksworth in uniform. The Army Corporal was shot to death by a white Mississippi police officer in 1962. (Courtesy of Cordero Ducksworth and the Syracuse Cold Case Justice Initiative)

My article tells the story of the slaying and of its lasting effects on Ducksworth's now deceased widow, Melva Ducksworth, on their eldest son Cordero, age 59, and on his cousin Odell, age 78:

In recent months, the nation has witnessed how questionable police shootings of African Americans can spark anger and unrest across a community. But long after the demonstrations end, the streets go quiet and the cameras leave, families of those killed have to find ways to cope with their loss. And that's a private struggle that can last for decades and across generations.

Cordero Ducksworth has lived that struggle. He was 5 years old in 1962, when his father, Army Corporal Roman Ducksworth, Jr., was shot to death by William Kelly, a white Taylorsville, Miss. police officer.

Cordero Ducksworth, April 2010 at the Syracuse University Cold Case Justice Initiative's It's Never Too Late for Justice conference. (Photo credit: Syracuse University Cold Case Justice Initiative)Cordero Ducksworth, April 2010 at the Syracuse University Cold Case Justice Initiative's It's Never Too Late for Justice conference. (Photo credit: Syracuse University Cold Case Justice Initiative)

Ducksworth was stationed at Fort Ritchie, Md. in the spring of 1962 when he was traveling home by bus. His wife Melva was at a local hospital due to severe complications late in her pregnancy with their sixth child.

By the time the bus arrived on the night of April 9, Roman had fallen asleep and the driver called Officer William Kelly onto the bus to rouse him. Kelly instead arrested the serviceman for drunkenness, and directed him to a patrol car across the street.

That's when things became violent. Once Ducksworth and Kelly were off the bus, they started to tussle, and the officer drew his gun and fired twice — once into the ground and once through Ducksworth's chest. Corporal Roman Ducksworth, Jr., was pronounced dead on the scene. He was just 27 years old.

Odell Ducksworth, Heidelberg, Miss., June 20, 2016. He held his dying uncle, Roman Ducksworth, moments after the shooting. (Photo credit: Ben Greenberg)Odell Ducksworth, Heidelberg, Miss., June 20, 2016. He held his dying uncle, Roman Ducksworth, moments after the shooting. (Photo credit: Ben Greenberg)

Roman's sister-in-law, Vera Ducksworth, and her son Odell had been at the station to pick him up. Instead, Odell held his uncle in the street as he died. The crowd dispersed, leaving Odell and Vera to watch over Roman's body until an ambulance from a local black funeral home could get there. Roman died without knowing that Melva had given birth to a healthy baby girl.

Read the rest at Code Switch.


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