GREENSBORO — Sunday, Sept. 15, marked the one-year anniversary of Anton Black’s death. Black, an African-American teenager from Greensboro, was 19 when he died in police custody.
Around 50 people including family members, friends, concerned citizens and activists gathered near the bridge on E. Sunset Avenue in Greensboro on Sunday evening for a vigil.
“It’s a very hard day as you can imagine, a lot of you knew Anton personally, you know the special man he was and how greatly missed he is,” said LaToya Holley, sister of Anton Black. “We’re going to continue to fight to receive justice for him, no matter what struggles continue to come...”
On Sept. 15, 2018, Greensboro police officer Thomas Webster IV responded to a 911 call reporting a young boy possibly being abducted by an older teen, later identified as Black, in Greensboro.
After a brief foot pursuit that ended in front of Black’s family’s home on Greensboro Road, Webster used his baton to break the window of a car parked outside the home, which Black had jumped into. Webster then tried to use his Taser on Black, still in the car. Black left the car, and Webster, along with two off-duty officers from Ridgely and Centreville and a passing civilian, restrained Black on a handicap ramp leading into the home.
Black, an aspiring model and soon-to-be-father, became unresponsive after the struggle to restrain him. Officers and, later, emergency medical services personnel administered life-saving services, but he was pronounced dead at the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton.
In January, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said Black’s autopsy revealed his death was accidental, a sudden cardiac arrest caused by a congenital heart defect. The autopsy noted the stress of the struggle with police likely contributed.
Caroline County State’s Attorney Joseph Riley said based on that evidence, he would not seek an indictment against any of the involved officers.
Holley said God does not make mistakes, which helps her and family endure the pain.
“If you do see any injustices ... speak out,” she said. “We don’t want this to happen to anyone else, this is horrible, this is one of the most unimaginable things that could happen to a family; to have someone just stolen from you for no reason.
“We as a community need to come together and we need to act as one for all of us because we all matter, every one of us,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you see an injustice, pull out your cell phone, stop, take the video, you may just be saving someone’s life or preventing something from going further than it needed to.”
Dana Bowser prayed God turn pain into purpose and give the crowd what they need to move forward in the healing process.
The Maryland’s Police Training and Standards Commission decertified Webster in July and he is no longer with the Greensboro Police Department.
Renata Seergae, of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which includes the commission, said in an email the commission had decertified Webster effective Friday, July 26.
Webster’s certification in the state was called into question in February, when the state department learned Webster’s full history — including 29 “use of force” reports from his career as an officer in Dover, Del. — was not disclosed in the application for his certification in Maryland, submitted in early 2018 by Michael Petyo, Greensboro’s police chief at the time.
Petyo only included Webster’s 2015 acquittal on assault charges, stemming from a 2013 incident in which a dash camera recorded Webster kicking an unarmed black man in the jaw while trying to arrest him in Dover.
The additional “use of force” reports came to the commission’s attention through news reporting.
Webster had been placed on administrative leave by the town’s mayor and council in January, after several months of pressure to do so from Black’s family and supporters.
In March, Black’s family and supporters asked the mayor and council to terminate Webster, for allegedly violating the town police department’s guidelines for responding to someone in a mental health crisis; Black recently had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he died in police custody.
Webster’s hiring by the town in early 2018 was criticized by several residents due to the 2013 incident in Dover.
Though Webster was acquitted on the assault charges, the City of Dover had to pay the injured man, Lateef Dickerson, $300,000 to drop a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, and $230,000 over six years to Webster after his release from the police department on the condition he never again would seek employment there.
“This is not right, he could’ve been somebody,” Anton Black Sr. said of his son. “He was supposed to be in Italy modeling. He could’ve put this place on the map, instead they put him in the ground.”
The family’s attorney, Rene Swafford, also spoke at the vigil, disclosing that Black’s family and estate “are going forward to pursue every legal remedy that we can by law to seek damages to Anton’s pain and suffering, his loss of life and consortium, his loss of earning.”
“We have asked for an excess of $20 million,” Swafford said.
Holley said the money is not the Black family’s main objective, but rather to see justice served.
“You cannot put a price on that boy ... if it had to be Anton to make a change, we’re going to make sure that change is made.”
Richard Potter, Coalition for Justice for Anton Black CEO/founder, outlined the series of events since the coalition’s inception in December 2018.
“Tonight we come to mark the one year anniversary death of Anton Black, but also on tonight we come to renew our commitment to the fight for justice for Anton Black,” Potter said. “The blatant racism and corruption that we have seen in attempts to hold us down will not hold us from seeking the truth.”
Guests were invited to light and release 20 memorial lanterns in honor of Black’s 20th birthday that would have been celebrated less than a month after his death last year.