Acquittals in Arizona Killing Spark Black Leaders’ Outrage
Representatives of the black community were outraged Wednesday when an all-white jury acquitted two grocery employees charged in last summer’s killing of a man suspected of writing bad checks.
While friends and relatives of defendants Marvin Davis and Michael Torres cheered the verdicts in court, a tearful Carolyn Lowery, executive director of the Arizona Black United Fund, stood and shouted, “Murderers!”
After Maricopa County Judge Peter D’Angelo ordered Lowery to leave the courtroom, she told him: “It’s not fair, your honor. You white folks are wrong.”
The death of Ric Rankins, a 43-year-old black, ignited and united the black community as no other issue in the city’s history. Rankins died on July 10 of asphyxiation after his larynx was crushed during a violent scuffle outside Smitty’s Grocery Store.
Evidence in the five-week trial showed that Davis, the white store manager, and Torres, his Latino assistant, recognized Rankins as someone who had passed some allegedly bad checks a few days earlier.
The two men followed him outside and ordered him never to return to the store. After a shouting match, witnesses heard Rankins ask a companion to get a gun, although no weapon was found. The prosecution said that Rankins was grabbed in a neck hold by Davis and, later, Torres.
After Rankins’ hands and feet were tied with rope, he was thrown to the ground and the neck hold continued, evidence showed. Defense attorneys argued that Rankins’ use of cocaine played a role in his death and contended that police officers contributed to his asphyxiation when they handcuffed the semiconscious Rankins and placed him face-down in a patrol car.
Evidence introduced at the trial indicated that Rankins had a small amount of cocaine in his system. The defendants testified that Rankins became violent and that they feared for their lives when they were struggling with him.
Last year, blacks, who make up about 3% of the city’s 1 million population, held vigils, demonstrations and meetings to protest Rankins’ death. The state chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People joined forces with the Nation of Islam, in what is believed to be a national first, to ask for justice.
A bitter NAACP head, the Rev. Oscar Tillman, said that the jury’s decision was not unexpected.
“It’s typical of Arizona justice . . . . No jury made up of this group was going to send two white men to any jail for killing a poor black man,” he said.
Lowery, the Black United Fund leader, said that she would urge the black community to speak out.
Arizona blacks have been disappointed year after year in their attempts to obtain a paid state holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.