James Cameron, born 92 years ago in Wisconsin, died peacefully this week. Mr. Cameron was the only known living survivor of a lynching in America. Those in the mob of 15,000 who did the beatings and killings that day were never charged with a crime. But Cameron, the lucky, terrorized survivor, was charged, basically with being a friend of the other two who were murdered by the mob, and he was imprisoned.
August 6, 2006
I attended the entire day and a half long inquest into the death in police custody of 20-year-old Mequon resident Matthew Sheridan, and was perhaps the only person who did so who was neither a friend or family member, nor a police officer, nor paid or required to be there. I was the ‘public’ referred to in the term ‘public inquest’. I heard the evidence presented to the jury, and I had never met any of the people who caused or were affected by this tragedy. But I was not a disinterested observer. Two months ago I had written in this column about Matthew’s demise. Because of that involvement, I am compelled to comment on the inquest.
A plastic bag, designed to be impermeable and to prevent any (potentially toxic) air from getting inside the bag and then to the lungs, was yanked roughly over his head.
He couldn’t get the bag off, or tear it open, or even make a little opening to let some air in, because his ankles were bound and his hands were bound behind his back, and he was shackled where he was seated. He said over and over, “I can’t breathe”, and he begged for help. He was terrified, he struggled, and he desperately needed help to live. But no help came. He lost consciousness. And then he died, not old enough to count yet as an adult, in the back seat of a Mequon police car.