Tragedy Is a Flat Circle
Race, crime, and America's tolerance of the intolerable.
In “True Detective,” the character Rust Cohle delivers a Nietzschean line about the absurdity of life’s cyclicity: “Time is a flat circle.” So too is tragedy, which cycles through the same carousel of horrors over and again. That is essentially the condition of an America that is captive to crime and paralyzed by the bugaboo of racism, as illustrated by the case of Cleotha Abston-Henderson.
Last September, Abston-Henderson, a black man, raped a woman at gunpoint in Shelby County, Tennessee. Memphis police submitted a sexual assault kit that contained his DNA to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) two days after the incident.
The kit sat around collecting dust with other evidence at the bureau. It would not be used to indict Abston-Henderson on rape, kidnapping, and felony firearms charges until a year later—this September—just after he had claimed another victim in Memphis. This time, he abducted and brutally murdered a teacher named Eliza Fletcher while she was out on a morning run. Her uncle happened to work at the same law firm as Kemper Durand—an attorney Abston-Henderson kidnapped at gunpoint in 2000. Both Fletcher and Durand, who died in 2013, were white.
Durand’s abduction got Abston-Henderson a 24-year sentence, of which he served roughly 20. He stuffed Durand into the trunk of his own car and took him to an ATM to rob him. The attorney was sure he would not survive the encounter. But Durand managed to escape thanks to an armed Memphis Housing Authority guard who was at the right place at the right time.
Abston-Henderson’s rap sheet stretches back to when he was about 11. Between 1995 and 2000, he was detained 16 times. He had five aggravated assault charges between September 1997 and October 1999 and seven theft cases between 1995 and 1999. He was also charged with evading arrest and trespassing during this time. According to court documents, when he was just 14, Abston-Henderson raped an unnamed male.
He abducted and robbed Durand two weeks after his release from the juvenile system; he abducted and murdered Fletcher two years after his early release from state prison in 2020. Time is a flat circle.
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