The Life & Death of Charles Anthony Chatman Jr.

“The second vice is lying, the first is running in debt.”
-Benjamin Franklin

Charles Anthony Chatman Jr was by all accounts, just another young father living in the sprawling desolation of urban Jennings, Missouri. He was reportedly a dutiful son, a loving father and a honorable comrade to all his friends.

He only had one problem: unpaid traffic tickets. Unfortunately, Charles accumulated over $1200.00 in unpaid traffic tickets. He was jailed when he was found in contempt for failure to pay them. He was passed from jail to jail because he accumulated the tickets in multiple jurisdictions.

Because Chatman was not a hard core felon or offender, he was unaccustomed to the psychological trauma that occurs from incarceration. As seconds turned into minutes, minutes turned into hours; hours turned into days; he found himself passed around from jail to jail like a loose cigarette.

Until one day, when he could no longer bear the pain. So he took his own life by hanging himself with a piece of his own bed sheet.

Now I know what you are going to say. “He’s shouldn’t have been driving!” “He was irresponsible.” “How the hell did he get all those tickets?” “Why didn’t he just pay the damn tickets?” And in all fairness it is not uncommon for defendant to be incarcerated when they fail to pay tickets.  While the ticket itself is a non-arrestable civil infraction, the failure to pay it under court order becomes an arrestable misdemeanor for which you can be jailed for.

But a further investigation into the surrounding facts of the matter reveal something deeper than Chatman’s lack of personal responsibility. Increasingly, municipalities have begun to rely more and more upon revenue from court fines to run local governmental institutions. Cities are recovering as much as 500,000 to 60,000,000 in court fees.

This transforms governmental institutions from non-profit promoters of the general welfare to private warehouses of human flesh driven by the bottom line. These cases range from sagging pants to chipped paint to mismatched blinds.

While these may seem like harmless offenses that would occur in any suburb, disproportionately; black residents in black neighborhoods find themselves penalized the most.

Now! Now! I know what you are gonna say; that this is some kinda conspiracy theory. But when you understand that most of these offenses tend to occur in the black community; most of its violators are black people; and that the incarceration rates for these low level civil offenses are highest among black people, it doesn’t take genius level intellect to see where all of this is going.

When one considers the vast degree to which public services are now being contracted to the private sector, the media watch dogs should be barking the loudest. Where are they? Where are the investigative reporters? They are in media exile in the BBC.

Starting with the launch of Black Entertainment Television (BET), programs like Our Voices with Bev Smith, or Lead Story with Ed Gordon, have been sounding the alarm on the mass privatization of prisons, as well as, the oncoming epidemic of debt based incarceration for well over 30 yrs.

Books such as The New Jim Crow by Dr. Michelle Alexander and Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges, have documented this problem in exhausting detail. They have pointed out that the primary victims of this pernicious pyramid schemes are the poor. Most of which are: you guessed it, black men!

Thus, Charles Anthony Chatman Jr is simply another one in a long assembly line of black men who slipped through the cracks of a loophole found in the 13th Amendment. He is cannon fodder for the next wave of black male mass incarceration fueled by poverty. A wave that is as old as well……….slavery.

America has the highest rate of incarceration of any industrialized nation. What is the only possible result for a country that spends more money to incarcerate its people than to educate them?

Chatman’s death while shocking, is strikingly predictable. Biggie once said that: “You’re nobody till somebody kills you!” Charles Anthony Chatman Jr was just another face in the crowd. Just another defendant. Nobody special. He was largely invisible.

America didn’t know his name until he was found hung dead in a cell; imprisoned for the crime of being Black While Living in The Red.

TONY MACEO is a Senior Blogger at the Negromanosphere. Like and Share the articles. Support by Paypal at or on Patreon


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