The United States District judge tasked with sentencing the men responsible for murdering James Craig Anderson in Mississippi in 2011 asked them to sit down while he read a lengthy statement about the history of race relations in Mississippi, NPR’s Code Switch blog reports.
On June 26, 2011, Deryl Dedmon, Jr., John Aaron Rice, and Dylan Wade Butler drove into Jackson, Mississippi — which they referred to as “Jafrica” — to “go fuck with some n*ggers.” They came across Anderson, a 49-year-old auto plant worker, and assaulted him while yelling “white power.” While Anderson was on the ground, Dedmon ran him over with his truck.
Two women who were involved in the altercation and who encouraged the trio to kill Anderson pleaded guilty to hate crimes charges in December for their role in the criminal conspiracy.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, one of only two African-Americans to serve at as a federal judge in Mississippi, spoke to Dedmon, Rice, and Butler before sentencing them for the hate crime charges related to Anderson’s death.
“Mississippi has expressed its savagery in a number of ways throughout its history — slavery being the cruelest example, but a close second being Mississippi’s infatuation with lynchings,” he said.
Reeves compared the number of blacks who died via lynchings to other statistics commonly associated with tragedy in American culture. The 4,742 African-Americans who were killed by lynch mobs “contrasts with the 1,401 prisoners who have been executed legally in the United States since 1976. In modern terms, that number represents more than those killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and more than twice the number of American casualties in Operation Enduring Freedom — the Afghanistan conflict. Turning to home, this number also represents 1,700 more than who were killed on Sept. 11.”
Quoting one Mississippi historian, Reeves noted that of “‘the 40 martyrs whose names are inscribed in the national Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, AL, 19 were killed in Mississippi.'”
“‘How was it,’ Walton asks, ‘that half who died did so in one state?’ My Mississippi, your Mississippi and our Mississippi.”
“Mississippi soil has been stained with the blood of folk whose names have become synonymous with the civil rights movement like Emmett Till, Willie McGee, James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Vernon Dahmer, George W. Lee, Medgar Evers and Mack Charles Parker,” he said.
“On June 26, 2011, four days short of his 49th birthday, the blood of James Anderson was added to Mississippi’s soil.”
“The common denominator of the deaths of these individuals was not their race,” Reeves continued. “It was not that they all were engaged in freedom fighting. It was not that they had been engaged in criminal activity, trumped up or otherwise.
“No, the common denominator was that the last thing that each of these individuals saw was the inhumanity of racism. The last thing that each felt was the audacity and agony of hate, senseless hate: crippling, maiming them and finally taking away their lives.”
“Like the marauders of ages past,” he said, addressing the defendants, “these young folk conspired, planned, and coordinated a plan of attack on certain neighborhoods in the city of Jackson for the sole purpose of harassing, terrorizing, physically assaulting and causing bodily injury to black folk. They punched and kicked them about their bodies — their heads, their faces. They prowled. They came ready to hurt. They used dangerous weapons; they targeted the weak; they recruited and encouraged others to join in the coordinated chaos; and they boasted about their shameful activity.”
“This was a 2011 version of the n*gger hunts.”
“What is so disturbing … so shocking … so numbing … is that these n*gger hunts were perpetrated by our children … students who live among us … educated in our public schools … in our private academies … students who played football lined up on the same side of scrimmage line with black teammates … average students and honor students. Kids who worked during school and in the summers; kids who now had full-time jobs and some of whom were even unemployed.”
“I asked the question earlier,” Reeves said, “but what could transform these young adults into the violent creatures their victims saw?”
“It was nothing the victims did … they were not championing any cause … political … social … economic … nothing they did … not a wolf whistle … not a supposed crime … nothing they did. There is absolutely no doubt that in the view of the court the victims were targeted because of their race.”
“The simple fact,” Reeves said, “is that what turned these children into criminal defendants was their joint decision to act on racial hatred.”
“Today we take another step away from Mississippi’s tortured past,” Reeves concluded. “We move farther away from the abyss. Indeed, Mississippi is a place and a state of mind. And those who think they know about her people and her past will also understand that her story has not been completely written.”
“Mississippi has a present and a future. That present and future has promise. As demonstrated by the work of the officers within these state and federal agencies — black and white, male and female, in this Mississippi they work together to advance the rule of law. Having learned from Mississippi’s inglorious past, these officials know that in advancing the rule of law, the criminal justice system must operate without regard to race, creed or color.”
“This is the strongest way Mississippi can reject those notions,” he said, before sentencing Dedmon to 50 years, Rice to 18 years, and Butler to 7 years — all without the possibility of parole — for their roles in the commission of a hate crime. Dedmon already faces 2 life sentences after pleading guilty to capital murder in 2012.