It’s been 82 days.
Eighty-one days since the body of Marco McMillian, a black mayoral candidate, who was also gay, was found on the Mississippi River levee, unclothed.
After 82 days of utter apathy from our collective community—the black community, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, our allies, and communities at the intersection—we are breaking the silence and calling out the paralyzing hypocrisy plaguing us.
Lives are at stake
On May 9th, in response to the autopsy results of the late Marco McMillian, the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), Parks & Crump law firm, and the McMillian/Unger family demanded a federal investigation at a national press conference held at the family’s home in Clarksdale, Mississippi. It was on their front lawn, with an oversized portrait of Marco behind us, that we declared that we will stop at nothing until the Department of Justice takes over the investigation.
As I’ve previously noted, justice sluggishly shifts when the lives of our black boys and girls are at stake. The public outcry is even more hushed, if at all audible, when it is a life of a black LGBT person on the line.
On March 3rd, four days after McMillian’s lifeless body was found, his parents released a statement saying that he had been beaten, dragged and set afire. But the Coahoma County coroner, Scotty Meredith, said McMillian was found with “two little bitty burns” and that “there was no beating, although there may have been an altercation.”
Brutalized, tortured and left for dead
March 5th, NBJC, the nation’s leading black LGBT civil rights organization, submitted a letter to the Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for the Department of Justice to launch a federal investigation.
Seventy-five days after Marco was found, we received an autopsy report detailing injuries the family outlined in their statement two months ago. The same statement that the Coahoma County coroner challenged by saying, “I don’t know where that is coming from.” Contrary to the coroner’s attempt to minimize McMillian’s murder, the young superstar aspiring to be a public official was brutally murdered.
It was not a random act of violence. He was brutalized, tortured and left for dead.
The report states that the victim died from a lack of oxygen. It goes on to detail that blunt force trauma most likely contributed to the Clarksdale mayoral candidate’s death, but what exactly caused the asphyxiation remains unknown. The report also notes that there were abrasions and lacerations on McMillian’s head, back and legs and multiple “areas of second and third degree burns,” and that the manner of death was a homicide.
Where’s the outrage
While an arrest has been made in this disturbing case, after 75 days of silence and virtually no public outrage, we are left with more questions than answers.
Back in March, the Coahoma County Sheriff’s Office announced that a suspect, Lawrence Reed, faces a murder charge in the death. Reed, 22, was found in McMillian’s wrecked SUV. He later provided authorities with the location of the victim’s body. Some say the two were romantically involved while others are pleading the “gay panic” defense, insinuating that Marco McMillian made unwanted advances to the murder suspect, Lawrence Reed.
Not only was this defense dangerous, it was problematic. It reeked of victim-blaming and ignored the egregious acts of violence committed against LGBT people of color.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), violence against LGBT people is on the rise, with people of color and transgender women as the most likely targets. Of the victims murdered in 2010, 70 percent were people of color. And those are just the cases we know about. Other findings indicate that identifying as gay, or offenders perceiving individuals to be gay, may increase hate violence murder risk.
Details don’t add up
The details just aren’t adding up. The McMillian/Unger family agrees.
In a heartfelt plea to the sheriff’s office on May 1, Patricia Unger, mother of McMillian, explained that she feels the investigation “has not been conducted in an ethical manner.”
“Please know that I am not questioning your expertise,” she wrote to the sheriff. “I am merely trying to find answers to questions that I have about the murder investigation of my only child.”
Unger pointed out that the sheriff refused to discuss the case with her husband because he didn’t want any leaks to the media.
No mother deserves to be held hostage by a lack of information around the death of her own son. No mother deserves to suffer in silence while being ignored by those who are entrusted with the justice system of government.
We can no longer be silent
The conflicting reports, the current racial and anti-LGBT climate in Mississippi and the lack of state protections for LGBT individuals are justification enough for a federal investigation. Again: Marco was brutalized, tortured and left for dead.
In the state of Mississippi, hate crime statutes do not include sexual orientation and gender identity, resulting in no state legislative protection for the LGBT community. According to a 2011 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report, there has been a spike in Mississippi anti-gay and racially-motivated hate crimes.
Sometimes silencing others—and the truth—makes people more comfortable. For 82 days, the silence around Marco McMillian’s murder has spoken volumes. We’re standing firmly, visibly, and loudly with his family so that their concerns do not go unaddressed.
Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks serves as the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), which is a national civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black LGBT people. NBJC’s mission is to eradicate racism and homophobia. For more information about NBJC, visit www.nbjc.org.