Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith got it right and also terribly wrong on the James Craig Anderson case. He got it right when he forcefully and boldly minced no words and called the savage beating and killing of Anderson, an upstanding, middle-aged African-American, auto plant employee in Jackson, Mississippi, a racially motivated hate crime.
Anderson was beaten and then run over by a pick-up truck. Smith said that he would vigorously press for a first degree murder conviction of 18-year-old Deryl Dedmon, Jr. for the crime.
Dedmon has been fingered as the instigator in the killing of Anderson. Dedmon allegedly inspired the beating and killing of Anderson and according to witnesses shouted out “white power” and other racial epithets before the murder. But Dedmon didn’t act alone. He had plenty of help from his white teen peers.
WATCH COVERAGE OF THE ANDERSON CASE HERE:
A surveillance video tape captured them beating Anderson in the parking lot, and they were also in the pick-up truck with Dedmon when he floored it and ran over Anderson. This after a self-admitted night of drinking and carousing, and then in Dedmon’s words they agreed to “go f**k with some ni**ers”
This is what Smith got terribly wrong in the case of this brutal murder. He will prosecute only member of the pack of Anderson’s alleged assailants. The charge is simple assault. The others at least as of this writing have not been charged.
Here’s two what ifs in this case. If Anderson had been white and he had been viciously beaten and murdered by a group of black teens who admitted afterward that their goal was to “f**k with some white people” would they have been sent home to their parents with no charges filed? Would the alleged ringleader in such an attack have been prosecuted for first degree murder without the District Attorney giving any hint that he would strongly consider asking for the death penalty if the assailant were convicted?
This is Mississippi. The state has a long and shameful history of premeditated racial violence against African-Americans. During most of the state’s sordid past, sheriffs, district attorneys, and state officials not only turned a blind eye to the violence against blacks but more often than not egged it on, and in some cases even were directly complicit in committing murderous acts against blacks.
Mississippi is also very much a death penalty state. And it has had absolutely no reservation in years past of slapping the death penalty on blacks that commit or are simply accused of committing a crime or violence against whites. Countless studies have shown that when blacks commit crimes against whites, they are far more likely to be convicted, serve longer sentences, and if the charge is murder, more likely than whites to get the death penalty.
The case of Curtis Flowers, charged with the 1996 murder of four persons in Winona, Mississippi in 1996, is a near textbook example of that. Three of the victims were white. Flowers is black. Despite numerous court rulings that Flower’s trial was riddled with bias and errors, prosecutors retried him six times to get a murder conviction and death penalty sentence.
It’s almost certain that Dedmon’s defense will twist and turn the evidence to present Dedmon as an immature, inebriated, irresponsible teen who in a moment of juvenile passion simply let his emotions run away with him. In other words, Anderson’s death was tragic, but this is hardly grounds to throw the legal book at him. Given the well-established propensity of all-or mostly white juries to give white defendants that commit acts of violence against blacks the full benefit of the legal doubt, there’s no guarantee that Dedmon won’t skip away with a hand slap sentence.
Anderson’s family has comported themselves with monumental dignity in the face of the brutal and shocking murder. They have kept a low profile, banking that the legal system in their state will bring justice and closure to the case. But given Mississippi’s inexcusable failings in past racially motivated criminal cases, and the infuriating and insulting fact that the other alleged perpetrators of the murder of Anderson will not be charged, this may be a faint hope.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson