National Honor Society Student Falsely Incarcerated, then Murdered in Cold Blood


by Dr. Boyce Watkins – Scholarship in Action

David Clarke was in prison for four years for a murder he did not commit.  Clarke spent years trying to plead for his innocence and no one was listening.  He was a National Honor Society student on his way to college, where he was a sure thing to receive a scholarship.

To fight for his freedom, he sent one letter after another begging anyone to look into his case.

“I feel like I’m trapped in a system that was designed to try to keep me in jail rather than find justice,” he said last year. “I am not looking for sympathy from anyone, nor am I looking for any favors, all I want is a fair trial to prove that I am innocent.”

Later down the road, in March of this year, Clarke was given a trial before his peers.  The trial lasted a month, but the jury took just 20 minutes to let the judge know that they believed that the young man didn’t do anything wrong.  He was relieved, believing that justice had been served.

Unfortunately, David’s reality came crashing down this week, as a seemingly meaningless, unrelated incident lead to the murder of the 23-year old Bronx native.  His death was not, according to his family, related to his murder trial.  So, a few months of release from the pain of being falsely incarcerated was followed by the disheartening trade off between a prison cell and a casket.

David Clarke is a victim of what might be accurately called “The black male paradox.”  This is where the cultural tornado created for and unfortunately sustained by black men in America often leads to the death and incarceration of men who didn’t do anything wrong.   For most black men in this country, it’s not enough to watch what you do; you can also have your life destroyed by what others around you are doing as well.

I’ve seen far too many cases of good kids, with good grades, doing good things having their lives ruined by men who have nothing to lose.  You date the wrong girl with a killer for an ex-boyfriend, you go to a club and get into a brawl with a gang banger who grabbed your girlfriend’s butt, or you’re simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when your best friend’s enemy rolls up with a machine gun.  It’s the ultimate and worst form of bullying, and often ignored by the rest of society.

I am David Clarke.  I was the 23-year old black male who chose to do the right things, abide by the law and make good grades in college (not high school, as some of you already know).  But I also saw, around that same age, my best friend shot in the skull by black men who had no problem murdering him in front of his young daughter.  The hurdles are complex, and when one considers urban war zones like South Central Los Angeles, you wonder how even the good kids make it out in one piece.

We’ve got to do something. We must be more diligent about protecting and raising kids in our communities.  When a child in your space has no father or mother, this might mean that God has offered you the chance to become a surrogate.  It’s up to you to decide if you want to accept the responsibility that has been placed before you.  A few words of encouragement or a bit of mentorship can make the difference between that child becoming a Congressman or a convict.

When talking to your kids about running back and forth to the club or spending time in places where bad things happen, teach them how to play chess and not checkers.  Help them to realize that in this dangerous world in which we live, the impact of personal choices is often multiplied and the consequences for black male mistakes are far greater than nearly everyone else in our society.  Our boys must be educated, disciplined and willing to make choices that work for themselves, even if everyone else is “chilling” and engaged in counter-productive activities.  Our children must be trained to be leaders, not the lazy buffoons that are advertised to us every single day on urban radio.

Finally, legislators who ask for the black vote must be forced to deal with issues such as mass incarceration and educational inequality.  I don’t want to hear another word about global warming, reproductive rights, gay marriage and all the other issues that are placed ahead of us on the liberal agenda.  If you’re not working with me to save our sons, daughters and families, then I don’t want to hear another word about what any politician has to say.  Protecting black life is as important as any other issue on the political agenda, and it’s time that we stop accepting second class citizenship.

David Clarke did not have to die. But for every David Clarke we see, there are 100,000 others aren’t covered in the evening news.   I am David Clarke, and I had the chance to survive my circumstances.  So, it is out of respect for his memory that I beg you to help me change the experience of the black male in America.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. 



Filed under african american professors, African American Scholars, african american speakers, African Americans, Black Men, Black News, black professors

28 responses to “National Honor Society Student Falsely Incarcerated, then Murdered in Cold Blood

  1. I am a believer in the martial arts, especially for those of us who are scholarly. I had to use the training on brothers and others who felt that studious black male meant bullied black male. The training helped me to keep my composure with abusive and panicky police, as well as defend myself against thugs when needed. One word of caution: the training does not make you bullet proof. It helps, but, you still, as the doctor said, have to learn how to play chess instead of checkers. However, there are times when the violent will only respect violence. Knowing how to talk to people is key. Knowing how to DE-ESCALATE situations is key. You may feel like the only sane person in an assylum, but, you must keep your eye on the prize. And above all, get comfortable with the Bible (particularly the Catholic Bible). Those books of wisdom give you good hints on how to deal with the bloodthirsty. And maybe, our scholars need to avoid clubs, or at least not club until the we hours of the night. Learn to leave the club or the party when you see the crazy people trickle in. Learn not to date the crazy people either.

  2. I want to offer my deepest condolences to the family of the young man. so many young black people hold the same beliefs of one another as racist hate groups feel about us. it is so sad that we fear our own race more than we do others.

  3. Renelda Moorehead

    What a tremendous loss to both DAVID CLARKE’S family and friends.
    God grant them the courage to MOURN AND TO BE HEALED.
    Now, what about black urban radio lazy images? DON’T SUPPORT THOSE WHITE-OWNED RADIO (or black-owned) STATIONS. And DEMAND as a group that those images be eliminated. It is time for ACTION.

  4. nojokester

    well stated, and sooo very overdue.Let’s Occupy our OWN ,

  5. My condolences to the family for your pain and loss. There are not many words of comfort in these times but please know we are praying for you.
    I for one have made a committment to shop and support my own. I will no longer go along with business as usual in this country as far as race is concerned. For contractors, radio stations, websights and stores especially hair product for black women . I am searching for my own to support and I am happy to say their are many first class black businesses to chose from.

  6. David2001

    This is such a sad story. My prayers go out to this family. Now that we have a black president many of our so call black leaders and media personalities are saying we can’t expect any solutions from the federal government. Personal responsibility and self help are important but would not have addressed this tragedy of wrongful incarceration. I agree we need to demand action from our government on these kind of issues.

  7. Another example of a producer taken out by non-producers. A hard-core hard-working young black man taken out by soft, bad-tempered, single-mama’s boys trying to make us and themselves believe they’re hard. How long my people, how long?

  8. francoise

    I going to make sure my two son’s read this article, educating our young precious black diamond is important. I think black youth can benefit from this story are story. Blessings to his parents

  9. Eugene Williams

    Rev Gene
    My prayers and condolences go out to this young man and his family. I have three adult sons and several grandsons both teens and pre teens and daily I live with along with thousands of parents the reality that it could be our son or grandson the next time. This hurts because David is our son and grandson in the spirit and the collective family of the oppressed. Let’s step up the te plate all adults and help raised more Davids who will amke it because our “collective will” will not settle for less. GOD BLESS

  10. Eugene Williams

    Forgive me I mispelled some things in my comments:

    Let’s step up to the plate all adults is the first correction and Davids who wil make it is the second correction

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  13. Shade

    Wow this is sad, the problem I believe it to be is there are no Strong Leading Black men. At one time it was Jesse Jackson, but then the babymama drama doesn’t mean he is not a Good Black Man he just needs to take better control of where he lays his Head. But now who do we have to stand-up for our youth, everyone is right on tv all they seem to talk about is what the Amercian people are doing for other Countries when right here World War three is happening sad but true.

    However and don’t be mad, but we are our own worst enemy. We don’t look out for our own, we get jealous when it seems like everyone is getting ahead there are no more Big Mama, respect is just gone out the window nobody cares and until Our Own Believe that were are here to Change the World as We Know it get out there like Malcom X he was a powerful speaker and very Good at making Others Seeing Him as the Great Black Man who they needed to silence. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. don’t he have sons, I mean I know he does but just think I mean if my father was a Civil Rights Leader and well-known to be this Great Man please I would be moving Mountains.
    All I do know if we don’t get it together and start remembering where we have come from and how easy it is seemly start to head that way, because the Jails population is 90% Black Males and that is sad, we are the ones buliding the damn jails but one must learn to Love themselves in Order to Have Greatness.


    Be Blessed.

  14. I want to share my condolences with the family. It is sad that Mr. David Clarke had to endure such unjust punishment, to be falsely acuse of a crime, and spending 4 years in prison. Finally being release to go on with his life, and to attend college. This man had the opportunity to receive a scholarship and to accomplish greatness. Someone decided to kill this young man. There are to man thugs committing senseless killing. And to much Black on Black crime. My new book “Redeem Yourself” will be publish in 2012.

  15. Kim Avery

    I was raised ok nd a small town, were small dreams was hard to find. I had my son at 14. The older I got the more I realized that I wants more for my son. His father on the other hand, didn’t. Hear was in and out of prison, but what helped me was his parents. While I went to college his parents helped and my mom. I.had to leave school and become a full time parent. I left Tx and me ok veda to GA so that my teenage son at the time could get some postive men around him. Hear got in trouble his senior year in high school but he paid the price for it on his . Now hear is a full time student in Florida. I say all this to say we may be in some unfortunate situations but we have to fight for our kids , our youth. I didnto want my son to repeat the same cicle I did, so I prayed. Know that prayer works.

  16. lewis3k

    My heart aches for the family. Im trouble by what is happening to our young black youth. The grief Im enduring reading this has left me at a loss for words.

    God, please help us.

  17. Oh, God bless this young brother’s family. A sad commentary in America indeed.

  18. Derrick Nthe Dominoes

    I grew up in Detroit, often getting into fights just because I actually took my books home from school so that I could study and do homework. I understand what it’s like to just want to be able to not just be a “do-gooder” but to want to be something better than what society and your surroundings say you should be. Why do so many of us have to suffer at the hands of the ignorant and evil? It makes me sad because there have been many situations during my adolecsent years in which I could have suffered the same fate. Had it not been for my mother recognizing the destructive power of the place where we lived and moving us several states away, despite being horribly poor, I likely would have suffered a similar fate. I feel for those who can’t or won’t take a drastic step like that to possibly save their children’s lives. But, then again, evil people are everywhere and we shouldn’t be the ones running for cover; they should be. What is it gonna take for us as a people to recognize our true potential and leave behind this ignorance?

  19. Robert Turner

    this is an interesting yet tragic story. The fact that we continue to victimize our own people is indicative of a more sinister problem. We have allowed ourselves to become complacent and content with just getting by. We are some much more than hip hop music and oversized pants, but we are asleep at the wheel. It is an interesting dichotomy that we have allowed integration to trick us into complacency and think we are on the right is track is problematic because we are not cognizant of our own shortsidedness.. God make me trusting, but not gullible, demanding but not domineering, let me give of myself, without being taken advantage of, give me the courage to fight for what is right, but the wisdom to abstain violence. R

  20. This was very discouraging as a single mother raising a son. My child is 8 and was just accused of inappropriately touching a little girl. Which later was found to be lying. What if my son had been 13, 15, or 21 even? We as parents and as a group not just black need to get it together.

  21. single mother of a 16yr old falsely arrested and now mentally and emotionally damaged

    well we all agree that something needs to me done….the movement needs to be reignited…..
    where and when?

  22. Larome

    I hate to say this ,but I personally believe there is something wrong mentally and psychologically with most Black people in America and I don’t think it only stem’s from slavery ,because even doing the aftermath of slavery Black’s did not kill and destroy each other like they have in the past 25 year’s .yes I grow up with the menace to society ,boyz in the hood,south central ,film’s just like the rest of my peer’s now in their 40’s.I managed to set my own trend’s and not give a damn what those who practiced FOOL,NIGGA,DOG, culture thought ,sure I had to avoid going to certain club’s hanging in certain area’s and even dating certain type’s of FOOL ,NIGGA,DOG,female’s however I surely glad I did.I completed college twice and chose to better myself and my life along with it.people we can continue to put the blame on white people and their society ,howver personal responsibility start’s with each single person doing the right thing .oh yea I come from a single parent household too so please don’t use that played out excuse.women stop jumping in the bed with people of this sick sub culture via Fool Nigga,Dog and we as a race will stop producing such loser’s F___ his drug money get off you ass and go to school so you can be a productive citizen’s and it wont matter who the president is because your to busy handling your own long as dysfunctional people reproduce we will continue to have innocent brother’s like Mr.Clarke being Killed….PEACE!

  23. I am so sad about this terrible case. I express my condolences to the family of David Clarke.

  24. In my 35 year career as a secondary educator I have seen so many smart and talented children of color – way too many- being bullied by their peers because they had aspirations bigger than their social and economic that their environments restricted them to. Many survived these negative pressures. Many did not. My heart goes out to the those unsung heroes (teachers, social workers, counselors, etc.) who make it their business to help these kids. Next time you see one of these angels, take a minute and thank them for being what is in many cases, a kid’s only positive motivator and cheerleader.

  25. eddie g

    I wish that one day we as black people can come together like we did in the60’s we are out of touch with each another.divide and conquer such a dirty game.the white man is so smart money keeps us out of touch.

  26. Max Clarke

    I am the first cousin of David Clarke and as I am writing this reply, tears are streaming down my face. I would like to first thank Dr. Boyce for shedding light on David’s life, and bringing to the forefront the need to end this “cultural tornado” that has claimed many lives in our urban communities. I would also like to thank those who have expressed their condolences to my family. The loss of David has been very difficult for the family to endure. Although I had the chance to survive my circumstances, David did not. I plan on making it my life’s mission to honor David’s life by being a catalyst for change. As an educator and a leader, I find it necessary to start a foundation to help change the experience of the black male in America. His memory will live on. No longer will I sit on the sideline and wait for change. I CAN make a difference.

  27. This is a sad tale of another melanated human taken by the deleteriousness of self hate. People that commit crimes such as these do so out of an innate sense of self loathing and psychological inadequacy. If god knows the stars by name and keeps account of them and when a star dies and implodes it becomes a black hole, then god in essence is saying that he is intimately familiar with the brilliance of blackness. Perhaps when god said that he knows the hairs of our head, he was referring to the fact that only black hairs have a medulla and can coil in a manner that makes it receptive to cosmic signals thus he has affinity for the black people who bear the antenna kinks. What i am saying is that god cares more for the people that were made in his image than he does about those that defectlively evolved away from his complexion oriented likeness and every time a sensless murder is comitted on one of his own, he laments the way Emmit Teal’s mother did when she gazed at his carcass. We are too precious to the one that made us his refelction.

  28. sedgwick195


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