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A Times Editorial

Unhelpful silence on teen death

As the funeral today brings together those who grieve a life cut short, there remains too much uncertainty about the circumstances surrounding the death of 17-year-old Javon Dawson. Two weeks after the raucous party where he was shot and killed by a St. Petersburg police officer, his family, the police investigators and the entire community deserve to know more. That can only happen if silent witnesses speak up and if investigators begin sharing more about what they have learned.

Dawson was shot, according to the initial police reports, after firing a gun in the air and then pointing it toward a police officer who told him to drop the weapon. The officer fired twice, hitting Dawson in the shoulder and lower back and killing him.

Though the party included some 250 potential young witnesses, not a single one has stepped forward to talk with police. Not one. Their silence is compounded by the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement leader Omali Yeshitela, who has turned tragedy into theater with his unsupported claims that Dawson was unarmed and overheated rhetoric that widens the gap between the community and law enforcement. Yeshitela, who ran for mayor in 2001, has yet to produce any evidence or witnesses to support his explosive claims.

Church and political leaders in the predominantly black community where Dawson lived have been doing their part to encourage witnesses to step forward. Police and prosecutors could help by disclosing what they know.

Investigators already have released a photo of the revolver and three spent shells they say were recovered near Dawson's body. It would be prudent to disclose any other forensic evidence, including autopsy results, that bears on whether Dawson held the weapon and on the angle at which the bullets entered his body. Given the intensity of emotion surrounding this case and the swirling accusations, investigators have an obligation to keep the public informed. Disclosure may also encourage some witnesses to step forward. Holding back and creating a vacuum the Uhurus are only too happy to fill hasn't helped.

Nothing will erase this tragedy, but witnesses who have refused to talk to investigators would be honoring Dawson's memory if they stepped forward.

Unhelpful silence on teen death 06/20/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 23, 2008 9:41am]
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