By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, or George Floyd are a portion of the familiar names of African Americans who have died while in police custody.
Their deaths fueled the latest edition of the Black Civil Rights Movement driven by Black Lives Matter.
While marching or speaking, the activists rhythmically call and respond to the chant “Say their Names” with current and past victims of police violence.
Instead of a chant, Chris Colbert is converting “Say Their Name” into a continuing series of podcasts that he hopes will memorialize their loss for their families, the immediate community, and the nation seeking to secure reforms and justice for them.
Colbert is the founder and CEO of DCP Entertainment which produces “Say Their Names” among other podcasts. He says he is giving a platform to people of color, women and LGBTQ+ communities, as well as highlighting stories around mental health, disability, and overcoming adversity.
Colbert, a Seton Hall grad, spoke recently on a segment of National Public Radio (NPR) to talk about “Say Their Name”.
Colbert started out as an intern and advanced to Director of Urban Talk and Comedy for SiriusXM. While there, Jamie Foxx’s comedy and music channel, “The Foxxhole”, was one of his projects.
“This is when he introduced me to the family of Trayvon Martin,” said Colbert.
“I also became friends with Attorney Benjamin Crump who represents so many of the families in the court. In 2018 I started my research and my reaching out to these families to tell their story.”
Before telling the specifics on his podcast of how the victims died, Colbert allows the victim’s family, friends, and community to tell the story of who the victims were, their aspirations, and what their lives meant.
Colbert said many of these families are emotionally and financially exhausted, but their work to find justice continues.
Over two decades ago there was the case of Archie “Artie” Elliott, III, the podcast which Colbert used to introduce the series.
It resonates in Hampton Roads, for he was the son of Dorothy Copp Elliott, then a Prince George’s County schoolteacher, and Archie Elliott Jr., of Portsmouth, who was the first Black traffic judge of the Portsmouth General District Court, now retired.
On June 18, 1993, young Elliott, then 24, was stopped by District Heights, Maryland Officer Jason Leavitt for driving erratically as he headed home from a construction job.
He was shirtless, wearing blue jean shorts and socks and sneakers.
Officer Wayne Cheney of the Prince George’s County Police, joined Leavitt at the scene. Cheney and Leavitt, according to 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond,
placed Elliott in the front passenger seat of Leavitt’s cruiser “with the seat belt fastened, the door closed and the windows rolled up.”
Three sobriety tests were administered on the spot, showing Elliott was Driving While Intoxicated (DWI).
Instead of being carted to jail or allowed to call a relative to retrieve him, Elliott’s life ended that day at the hands of his arresting officers.
Officers Leavitt and Cheney, court documents say, were standing a few feet from the passenger’s side of the cruiser.
They testified they observed the handcuffed Elliott pointing a gun at them, his right index finger on the trigger.
Fearing for their lives, the officers said, they fired
22 bullets at Elliott. Fourteen bullets landed in Elliott’s chest, arm, buttocks, and right hand.
He died with his hands still cuffed behind his back. A small-caliber handgun, found by Cheney at the scene after the shooting, was unloaded.
A county grand jury and a police internal affairs investigation cleared them.
Evidence of Elloitt’s character that was presented by the police cast Elliott in a negative light, including his alleged threats to the officers or other past personal issues.
An affidavit from a motorist said a few months earlier Elliott threatened him with a handgun that was identified as the one recovered from Elliott’s body. An FBI lab report
also said a blue fiber on the gun came from Elliott’s shorts.
In a recent episode of NPR’s Sunday Edition, Dorothy Copp Elliott, his mother, was interviewed about the case.
She also described him as “such a shy, little boy growing up. And he never complained about anything, you know? He loved the Redskins at the time. He loved baseball. He loved riding his bike. He loved doing
what the typical kids do. He loves movies and…”
Colbert believes the Elliot case typifies the agony of Black family members as they seek to contend with police stories that deny and cover-up how their loved ones were abused and killed.
“She has, you know, gone broke, like many of these families, you know, trying to fight,” Colbert said during the
NPR interview. “You know, you see these lawyers. And you sometimes forget how much that costs.”
Colbert began plotting the course for his project in 2018 and by late 2019, he had launched a three-week, 4,500 mile, road trip with crew driving through the country, including Hampton Roads. His mother was an associate producer.
He recorded the stories of six victims of police violence before the 2020 pandemic shut down the work of his production crew.
They were Jamar (Clark) Burns-Hill, shot in the head by Minneapolis Police Nov. 15, 2015; Danny Ray Thomas, 34, shot during a mental health crisis while walking down the middle of the street in Houston Texas in March
2018; John Crawford III, 22, shot in a Beavercreek, Ohio Walmart, had a BB gun in hand; Kaldrick Donald, 24, shot by Greta, Fla. Police in the family bathroom where he retreated during mental health crisis Oct 2014; Duane “Wane” Strong Jr., 18, shot by Tallahassee, Fla. Police trying to leave the parking lot of a night club in May 2014.
Of the initial seven stories, Robbie Tolan survived an incident in Bellaire, Texas, on Dec. 31, 2008. A police
veteran Jeffrey Cotton shot unarmed Tolan, son of major league baseball player Bobby Tolan, after police
claimed he stole a car while seeking to protect his mother from an abusive cop who sought to detain him.
Colbert says in a lot of these cases, family members need therapy. Kaldrick Donald’s family, for example, is still living in the same home where their loved one was killed by an officer. …(S)o every single day, they have to walk by the bathroom where their son was killed. And so they can’t afford to even get out of there.
“I applaud what he (Colbert) is doing,” former Judge Elliott told the GUIDE recently. “He wants to make sure that the history and meaning of these cases do not fall to the wayside. The stories of my son and others are important today, tomorrow and next week and beyond to assure they do not die.”