Category: hate crime

Were the Tulsa shootings racially motivated?

By Melanie Wilmoth Navarro

As of yesterday, two suspects have confessed to the Tulsa, Oklahoma shootings that left two injured and three dead over the Easter weekend.  The two suspects — Jacob England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32 — were arrested Sunday morning and confessed shortly after their arrest.

Late Thursday, According to the New York Times, England wrote an angry post on his Facebook page about the deaths of his father and fiancée:

Mr. England’s father, Carl, was shot on April 5, 2010, at an apartment complex…and the man who was a person of interest in the case, Pernell Jefferson, is serving time at an Oklahoma state prison.

Mr. England is a Native American who has also described himself as white.  Mr. Jefferson is black.

“Today is two years that my dad has been gone,” Mr. England wrote, and then used a racial epithet to describe Mr. Jefferson. “It’s hard not to go off between that and sheran I’m gone in the head,” he added, referring to the recent suicide of his 24-year-old fiancée, Sheran Hart Wilde. “RIP. Dad and sheran I Love and miss u I think about both of u every second of the day.”

Hours later, England and his roommate, Watts, drove a pickup through a predominately black neighborhood in Tulsa and started to randomly shoot pedestrians.  Mr. England admitted to shooting three of the victims and Mr. Watts admitted to shooting the other two.

Many within the Tulsa community believe the actions of England and Watts were racially motivated.

The city of Tulsa has a history of racial tension.  In 1921, the city was the site of one of the deadliest race riots in U.S. history.  The riots began when a young black man was arrested after he was accused of sexually harassing a white woman.  His arrest sparked a violent confrontation between the black and white communities.  According to documents from the Tulsa Historical Society:

In the early morning hours of June 1, 1921, Black Tulsa was looted and burned by white rioters.  Governor Robertson declared martial law, and National Guard troops arrived in Tulsa.  Guardsmen assisted firemen in putting out fires, took imprisoned blacks out of the hands of vigilantes and imprisoned all black Tulsans not already interned.  Over 6,000 people were held at the Convention Hall and the Fairgrounds, some for as long as eight days.

Twenty-four hours after the violence erupted, it ceased.  In the wake of the violence, 35 city blocks lay in charred ruins.

Historians estimate that over 300 people were killed in the riot and more than 8,000 were left homeless.

Now, 91 years after the deadly riot, race relations in Tulsa remain rocky.  Many, including the Tulsa NAACP chapter and Tulsa City Council member Jack Henderson, want the gunmen to be prosecuted for a hate crime.

“Somebody that committed these crimes were very upset with black people,” said Jack Henderson, “That person happened to be a white person. The people that they happened to kill and shoot were black people — that fits the bill for me.”

Police officials and prosecutors, however, say it is still too early in the investigation to call the shooting rampage a hate crime.

“The undignified don’t deserve dignity”: Mississippi’s first hate criminal goes to prison

Two weeks ago, a white high school student named Deryl Dedmon pled guilty to the murder of James Anderson, a black man.  Dedmon dodged the death penalty by admitting that the crime was racially motivated.  In so doing, he became Mississippi’s first hate criminal.

Two accomplices, John Aaron Rice and Dylan Butler, also admitted their involvement in the racially-motivated murder.

Newsweeks Tony Dokoupil traveled to Mississippi to find out what Deryl Dedmon, the young man behind the wheel of the Jeep Cherokee, meant when he admitted to being “young and dumb, ignorant and full of hatred.”

“What I discovered,” Dokoupil reports, “was deeper, scarier, and more complex than a single country boy gone bad or even simple, pre-civil-rights-era racism.”

Dedmon’s friends don’t see him as a racist and don’t think the murder should be classified as a hate crime.  Even more disturbing, from the writer’s perspective, many of their black friends seemed to agree.

The kids in Dedmon’s social circle don’t think they’re racist at all. Sure, many use the N word, sometimes even in anger. But they say they don’t mean it in a racist way, any more than the town’s monument to the Confederate dead is meant as a call to arms. “It’s heritage, not hate,” says Trevor, echoing a common defense of Southern pride. The trips to west Jackson, he and others believe, were driven by social status—reveling in the lawlessness of poor neighborhoods—not skin color.

The article published in Newsweek and on the web in The DailyBeast, represents the most in-depth analysis of this tortured tale to appear thus far.  It will come as no surprise that the murder of James Anderson was the culmination of a long series of trips from predominantly white Rankin County to the poor black neighborhoods of nearby Jackson.  Unlike the black friends the white defendants knew from school, the denizens of West Jackson were regarded by Dedmon and his friends as the semi-human citizens of a Third World country.  It was okay to threaten, attack, beat and eventually kill people in poor black neighborhoods because, well, they’re niggers.

But our black friends back in Rankin County, well, they’re okay.

 In the version told by Dedmon’s social circle, racial hatred did not bring them to Jackson so much as boredom and drunken teenage aggression, mingled with a kind of moral outrage at the shabbiness of life in the Metro Inn area. Yes, the people there are almost all black, and the white teens call them “niggers.” But that has more to do with their status than their skin; the undignified don’t deserve dignity, they say. “White, black, red, or yellow,” says the Bunyanesque friend from the car wash, who did not go to Jackson that night, “what I’m prejudiced against is stupidity. I don’t like stupid people.”

If you hate black people because of their color, you’re racist; if you hate poor, inebriated black people because you have contempt for their lifestyle, that’s just being a decent American.

This is what happens when centuries of slavery and Jim Crow oppression empty into half a century of silence.  Until the early 1970s, the official position in the state of Mississippi was pure, unfiltered white supremacy.  By the late 70s the subject of race was off the table.  You could spout the old line behind closed doors, but in the public arena the past wasn’t mentioned.  Until recently, Mississippi school children weren’t even taught that there was a civil rights movement.

Confused white males like Deryl Dedmon were left to figure things out for themselves.  Dedmon’s behavior was unusual, to be sure, but the sentiments voiced by his friends, black and white, are standard issue.

That’s why I call my book, Taking out the Trash in Tulia, Texas.  So long as the defendants in the Texas Panhandle town I called home for nine years were sufficiently “trashy”, constitutional protections and the canons of common sense didn’t apply.  The war on drugs is rooted in the same principle.

Tony Dokoupil’s five-page article can be found here.  Highly recommended.

Hate-crime victim’s family opposes death penalty

By Melanie Wilmoth

The family of James Craig Anderson, a Black man from Mississippi who was the victim of a hate crime this summer, is requesting that prosecutors do not seek the death penalty for those responsible for James’ murder.

As CNN reports, a letter Mr. Anderson’s family sent to Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith reads:

“We ask that you not seek the death penalty for anyone involved in James’ murder. Our opposition to the death penalty is deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James’ life as well. We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites. Executing James’ killers will not help to balance the scales, but sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment. Those responsible for James’ death not only ended the life of a talented and wonderful man, they also caused our family unspeakable pain and grief, but our loss will not be lessened by the state taking the life of another.”

In response, DA Smith stated, “It’s most likely that we will honor the family’s wishes, but we will see whether or not things will change over the course of this proceeding.”

Family of alleged hate-killing victim opposes death penalty in case

By Drew Griffin and Scott Bronstein

Jackson, Mississippi (CNN) — The family of an African-American man who died after allegedly being beaten by a group of white teens and run over by a truck is asking state and federal officials not to seek the death penalty in the case.

Relatives of James Craig Anderson, who died shortly after receiving his injuries on June 26, sent a letter with their request to the prosecutor in the case, Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith. (more…)

Jena, Louisiana five years on

 By Alan Bean

Reed Walters doesn’t think he did a very good job explaining his prosecution of the Jena 6.  It wasn’t for lack of opportunity.  The New York Times invited the LaSalle Parish DA to write an op-ed and the Christian Science Monitor published a curious piece of historical reconstruction written by a Walters supporter at the Jena Times. 

In his NYT op-ed, Walters defended his refusal to charge the boys who hung nooses from a tree at the Jena High School with a hate crime.  It didn’t take much ingenuity to make the case.  Charging the noose boys with a hate crime was always a really bad idea.  The kids needed a history lesson on lynch law and the South’s history of racial violence.  A few months in prison would simply have left them traumatized and unchanged.

Things got out of hand in Jena because nobody in a position of power could acknowledge that the noose hanging was racially motivated.  The nooses appeared the morning after a freshman asked if it was okay for black students to sit under the tree in question.  But when the noose hangers insisted they were just acting out a scene from the popular miniseries Lonesome Dove, men like Reed Walters and Superintendent Roy Breithaupt were eager to believe them.


You don’t talk about the South’s racial history in towns like Jena.  That’s why. (more…)

Where are the personal apologies for the freedom riders?

Kung Li with Facing South wonders why so few white Southerners have ever apologized for their behavior during the Freedom Rides.  The same question applies to the civil rights and Jim Crow eras: why have so few white Southerners (or southern legislatures) acknowledged being part of an organized “massive resistance” movement dedicated to keeping African-Americans in a subordinate caste?  Is it because few good opportunities for face to face apology present themselves; or could it be that the generation described in Mr. Li’s column feel their actions were justified?  The young people graduating from southern high schools and colleges are certainly less bigoted than their parents and grandparents, but there has never been a day of reckoning in the South.  AGB

Freedom_Riders.jpgBy Kung LiThe 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides generated a burst — however brief — of remembrance. There was Oprah Winfrey’s gala show on May 4, commemorating the day the southbound Greyhound and Trailways buses pulled out of Washington, D.C. A few weeks later, a large group of Freedom Riders gathered in Jackson, Miss. at the invitation of Gov. Haley Barbour, surrounded by reporters eager to watch the interaction between the Freedom Riders and a man who had a few months earlier said about segregation, “I just don’t remember it being that bad.” (more…)

A hate crime unites Jackson Mississippi

By Alan Bean

While The Help transported America back to Jackson, MS circa 1963,  a young white Jackson man named Daryl Dedmon was determined to prove that nothing has changed in Jackson.

It could be argued, in fact, that Dedmon’s decision to run over a man he and his friends had already beaten to a bloody pulp was far more senseless than hate crimes perpetrated against black Mississippians during the Jim Crow and civil rights eras.  Violence back then had a clear purpose: maintaining Jim Crow and white supremacy.  Perpetrators weren’t necessarily seething with hatred, they were simply making a point (the lives of black people are worthless) and inspiring an emotion (terror).  That was the message whenever hapless black men were lynched by smiling crowds throughout the South.

What kind of message were Mr. Dedmon and his friends sending?  The only silver lining clinging to the edges of this story is the response of Jackson residents, black and white.  Dedmon et al didn’t mean to unite their community, but that’s what they did.

Normally, I wouldn’t assume the guilt of the defendants, but these guys were caught by a surveillance camera.

James Craig Anderson


Vigil for James Craig Anderson is held in Jackson parking lot where White teens are suspected of intentionally targeting Black victim for brutal attack caught on videotape

Religious and community leaders in Jackson, Miss. led a march and vigil on Sunday for James Craig Anderson, the Black man who authorities say was killed in June by a White teenager who shouted racial slurs after running the 49-year-old over with his car on June 26.

 The Clarion-Ledger reported that a diverse crowd gathered at the Metro Inn to remember Anderson, as Daryl Dedmon remains jailed on a murder charge under an$800,000 bond.

Escorted by police and singing “We Shall Overcome,” marchers walked down Ellis Avenue to the site of the hit-and-run killing, as faith leaders decried a killing that shocked a community and has drawn international headlines. When they arrived, a wreath and candles were laid down as demonstrators joined hands in solidarity. (more…)