Richard Abshire of the Dallas Morning News offers a timely update to the racially-tinged death of Brandon McClelland in Paris, Texas. A companion piece chronicles the Northeast Texas community’s historical association with lynching.
This is the second time Paris officials have been accused of racial bias in recent history. Last year, Shaquanda Cotton was sentenced to a Texas Youth Commission holding facility for pushing a teacher’s aid.
Neither Shaquanda Cotton’s mother nor the mother of Brandon McClelland want to see the men responsible for this latest outrage put to death–both women are staunch opponents of the death penalty–but they want to see justice served.
It has been argued that the white men accused of killing McClelland couldn’t have committed a hate crime because they were good friends with their black victim.
Friends don’t drag friends to death.
That said, it is difficult to establish the motivation of any crime. Brandon McClelland paid the ultimate price for associating with violent individuals who were strangers to natural human affection. We need to know far more about the victim’s relationship to his murderers. According to Abshire:
The men were thought to be friends. Mr. McClelland was convicted of perjury for lying on Mr. Finley’s behalf in a manslaughter case. Mr. Finley went to prison from 2004 to 2007 for shooting a friend in a Paris park; Mr. McClelland was sentenced to a two-year term.
Did McLelland perjure himself to help out a buddy, because he was threatened with dire consequences if he told the truth, or are we dealing with a complicated mix of both factors? Is McLelland of normal intelligence, or were his white associates taking advantage of a man with a serious learning disability? More light needs to be shed on these questions.
Is it fair to bring up the close historical association between Paris and lynching?
It isn’t just fair; it is critically important.
Heinous crimes perpetrated by an entire community leave a psychic stain (ala Lady McBeth) that will not wash away. You don’t torture a man to death and then wander casually back to business as usual. Churches complicit in this kind of demonic rage remain crippled and scarred until confession is made and forgiveness is extended.
Across America, especially in the southern states, individuals, families, and congregations shoulder crushing emotional and spiritual burdens, often without realizing it. You see the consequences most clearly in the criminal justice system and in strained and tenuous relations between black and white communities.
I congratulate Mr. Abshire for noting that a monument to the Confederacy stands on the courthouse steps in Paris. I have noted the same phenomenon on the grounds of the state capitols in Little Rock, Arkansas and, last week, in Atlanta, Georgia.
The most soul-destroying example of this form of spiritual oppression can be found in Colfax, Louisiana.
In the cemetery across the street from a Baptist church you will find this obelisk celebrating the sacrifice of three brave souls who gave their lives fighting for “white supremacy” in 1873. The marker was unveiled at a well-attended ceremony in 1921.
Down the street at the courthouse stands a sign celebrating the “Colfax race riot” that broke the back of “Carpetbag misrule.”
Since I first stumbled upon these historical artifacts I have read two recent and carefully researched books on the Colfax Massacre. The real facts do not reflect well on the tiny community.
During the Reconstruction period, Grant Parish was carved out of central Louisiana as a protected space for Republicans (most of them black). After a disputed election, 300 Democrats marched on a Colfax courthouse defended by 150 poorly armed black residents. The brave champions of white supremacy set fire to the courthouse, then mowed down the Republican defenders as they fled. Several dozen people taken captive during the “battle” were summarily executed later that night.
When a heroic US Attorney named J.R. Beckwith tried to bring a representative handfful of the murderers to justice, his efforts were blocked by a Supreme Court weary of Reconstruction. In that sense, the marker in front of the Colfax courthouse is on target: the Colfax massacre did sound the death knell of Reconstruction politics in the South. Hence the name of Charles Lanes’ book, “The Day Freedom Died“.
How are the people who worship across the street from a marker valorizing racial hatred affected? How can black residents of Grant Parish expect to obtain justice from a courthouse that celebrates the mass murder of African Americans?
How can communities like Jasper, Tulia, Jena, Little Rock and Paris come to terms with the horrors of history? In the natural flow of events it rarely happens.
The only fitting response to the death of Brandon McClelland would be a formal, organized, community-wide process of remembering, confession and restoration. Only then will the tragic stories stop flowing from the press. Demons must be exorcised.