How Memphis Police Failed A Black Woman, And Thus All Women

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Cleotha Abston appears in Judge Louis Montesi courtroom for his arraignment on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022 in Memphis, Tenn. The judge revoked bond Wednesday for Abston, charged with killing a Memphis woman who was abducted during a pre-dawn run near a university campus. Abston, who told a Shelby County General Sessions judge that he prefers to be referred to as Cleotha Henderson, will be held without bond on charges including first-degree murder in the abduction and slaying of Eliza Fletcher, 34.
Cleotha Abston appears in Judge Louis Montesi courtroom for his arraignment on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022 in Memphis, Tenn. The judge revoked bond Wednesday for Abston, charged with killing a Memphis woman who was abducted during a pre-dawn run near a university campus. Abston, who told a Shelby County General Sessions judge that he prefers to be referred to as Cleotha Henderson, will be held without bond on charges including first-degree murder in the abduction and slaying of Eliza Fletcher, 34.

The #MeToo movement was supposed to help bring about the end of ignoring women who have experienced sexual assault and harassment, but years after its peak, one Black woman’s experience proves there’s still miles to go.

That woman, Alicia Franklin, says she was raped last year by a man in Tennessee after meeting him on an online dating app. Unlike many rape victims, she reported the case immediately to police and consented to the collection of a rape kit, an invasive examination that allows law enforcement to gather physical evidence that might help ID the attacker. Despite the fact that she knew where he lived—the attack took place at his apartment—provided police with DNA evidence and had the trail of dating app interaction, Franklin’s rape kit was never expedited and remained in storage among a backlog of other cases.

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Her alleged rapist, Cleotha Henderson, remained free until Sept. 5, when he was charged with kidnapping and murdering Eliza Fletcher, a 34-year-old Memphis teacher. Fletcher was white and her disappearance early this month made national news, just like earlier cases of missing white women that have capture the media’s attention. Franklin is Black and it’s likely none of us would have ever heard of her if not for Fletcher’s death, even though aggressive police action in her case might might have meant Fletcher would still be alive today.

Franklin sued the Memphis Police Department yesterday alleging negligence in how it handled her case. She told journalists with the Institute for Public Service Reporting that she went public with her name and her story to help other women in similar circumstances, but its likely that just how much her story helps will depend on who the next victim is. As the Institute’s original story pointed out:

Ultimately, as Franklin notes, the comparisons are unavoidable:

Eliza Fletcher was white and from a wealthy family. DNA from her abduction was tested in a matter of hours.

Alicia Franklin is Black and taking online college courses as she attempts to escape a legacy of poverty. Her rape kit sat on a shelf for months.

DNA testing was finally completed only after Fletcher was murdered — a tragedy Franklin says she “mourns.” In a social media post, she wrote, “My heart pours out for her and her family.”

Still, Franklin wonders if her case might have been handled differently if she had been more connected in Memphis or had been a different race. “I was just an average Black girl in the city of Memphis, you know,” she said.

“I just think it wasn’t a priority.”

Henderson has finally been charged with raping Franklin, although at this point, as a Black man facing a murder charge in the death of a white woman in Tennessee, he probably has bigger things on his mind.