Prove Me Wrong, Mississippi

If you have read this blog with any frequency, you know I’m from Mississippi.  I am also a woman. (I feel the need to say that one more time because a very kind local business journal linked to my blog, but referred to me as a “he”) I am also white. I bring up the white woman thing because I’m going to talk about race today, and people tend to listen to a Southern white woman talk about race when her speech is not shot through with racial vitriol. Apparently, this breed of Southern white woman is seen as an anomaly in certain parts of the country.

I’ve talked a little about race before. A rather ridiculous poll came out saying there was a rather large percentage of Mississippians who believed interracial marriage should be illegal. I won’t get into it here, but basically I said that was bullshit race baiting and we need to move along because there’s nothing to see here. You can read the piece here if you’re so inclined.

Yesterday a friend sent me a link to a CNN story, “Video show white teens driving over, killing black man, says DA.” While I pay attention to news of my home state, I missed this story.  I’m going to give you the text of the story here, but I’m going to talk about the video later. I also want to let you know that there is a racial epithet used here several times. You may be sensitive to it, so I’m letting you know it’s there. I did not redact it because I think it’s an important part of the story.

This is the text of the CNN story as it appears on CNN.com:

On a recent Sunday morning just before dawn, two carloads of white teenagers drove to Jackson, Mississippi, on what the county district attorney says was a mission of hate: to find and hurt a black person.

In a parking lot on the western side of town they found their victim.

 

James Craig Anderson, a 49-year-old auto plant worker, was standing in a parking lot, near his car. The teens allegedly beat Anderson repeatedly, yelled racial epithets, including “White Power!” according to witnesses.

Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith says a group of the teens then climbed into their large Ford F250 green pickup truck, floored the gas, and drove the truck right over Anderson, killing him instantly.

Mississippi officials say it was a racially motivated murder. What the gang of teens did not know was that a surveillance camera was focused on the parking lot that night, and many of the events, including the actual murder of Anderson, were captured live on videotape.

 

CNN has exclusively obtained that surveillance tape. The group of teens that night was led by 18-year-old Deryl Dedmon, Jr., of Brandon, Mississippi, according to police and officials.

 

“This was a crime of hate. Dedmon murdered this man because he was black,” said Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith. “The evidence will show that.”

 

Asked if there could be any doubt whether the intent was to actually hurt and kill a black person, Smith responded: “No doubt about it. They were going out to look for a black victim to assault, and in this case, even kill.”

 

Dedmon led and instigated the attack from early in the evening, he took part in the beating of Anderson, and Dedmon was also the actual driver of the Ford 250 truck that would serve as the murder weapon, according to officials.

 

As the teens were partying and drinking miles away from Jackson that night, in largely white Rankin County, Dedmon told friends they should leave, saying “let’s go fuck with some niggers,” according to law enforcement officials.

 

Then, the gang of teens climbed into Dedmon’s green truck and a white SUV Cherokee, and drove 16 miles down Interstate 20, to the western edge of Jackson, a predominantly black area.

 

The teens would have seen Anderson immediately as they exited the highway, as the parking lot where he was standing is just beside the exit ramp.

 

“This is the first business that you get to coming off the highway and so that was the first person that was out here and vulnerable,” said district attorney Smith.

 

On the videotape, obtained and reviewed by CNN, the group of teens is seen pulling into the parking lot, and stopping where Anderson is standing, though he is just off camera and not visible.

 

The teens can then be seen going back and forth between their cars and Anderson. Witnesses told law enforcement officials this is when the repeated beatings of Anderson took place.

 

Dedmon pummeled Anderson repeatedly as he crumpled to the street, according to officials, though this is not visible in the videotape. Finally, after the beating some of the teens left and some got into the green truck.

At this moment on the video, Anderson becomes visible, as he staggered into view and walked towards the headlights of the truck. The truck suddenly surges ahead, running over Anderson, then continuing at high speed away from the scene.

 

Shortly after he allegedly drove the truck over Anderson, Dedmon allegedly boasted and laughed about the killing, according to testimony given by some of the teens to detectives.

 

“I ran that nigger over,” Dedmon allegedly said in a phone conversation to the teens in the other car.

He repeated the racial language in subsequent conversations, according to the law enforcement officials.

“He was not remorseful he was laughing, laughing about the killing,” said district attorney Smith.

 

Later that morning, James Craig Anderson’s family learned their 49-year-old brother and son died in a hit and run. Only later, when witness statements were taken did they learn the real horror.

 

“It appears there is no doubt that this was a racially motivated killing,” said Winston Thompson, the attorney representing Anderson’s family. “The family is still in shock still in disbelief.”

 

Smith and officials in the Hinds County District Attorney’s office say they plan to indict Dedmon for murder and a hate crime.

 

Deryl Dedmon is thin, weighing a mere 130 pounds, and short — at 5 feet; he has straggly blond hair and piercing blue eyes.

 

The teen, just 18 years old, has been charged with murder and now faces a possible double life sentence. Calls to Deryl Dedmon’s attorney have gone unanswered.

During a bond hearing his attorney told the court he saw nothing to back up the “racial allegations.”

 

At Dedmon’s home, a girl who answered the door pretended not to know him though the pick-up truck he allegedly used as a murder weapon sticks out of the family’s garage.

 

Police say they returned it after the vehicle was processed. A second teen, 18-year-old John Aaron Rice, has been charged with simple assault, for his part in the beating his attorney also did not return calls.

Neither teen has entered a plea.

 

The other teens in the group have not been charged.

 

And James Craig Anderson’s family has decided to remain silent for now, trying to come to grips with a crime they thought was in Mississippi’s past: the murder of a man just because he was black.

 

Here’s a link to the video. I debated about whether or not to watch it, but my friend Desmond said if I was going to write about it, I had to watch it. I’ve seen battlefield footage that disturbed me less than that video.  I sat here and watched a man die by getting plowed over by a truck. He was a man. And then he wasn’t.  He was someone’s son. And then he wasn’t.  And I have to tell you, based on what I’m reading, it looks like he was killed for the indefensible sin of being black.

But what I really want to say isn’t about the crime itself. It’s about Mississippi’s response to the crime. What response? Well, that’s the problem. This happened back in June, but it takes a CNN report to get anyone talking about it.  I asked Desmond, who follows Mississippi news more closely than I, if he knew much about the story. He said, “I read about this in the Clarion-Ledger (the Jackson, MS newspaper) and…at first sounded like the two boys and the man they killed got into some kind of argument, i.e., a drug deal gone bad.” Another friend in Meridian, MS said she heard something about a hit and run, but none of the other “disgusting” details.

After knocking about the Clarion-Ledger site for a while, I came upon a piece by Ronnie Agnew, executive director of the paper. (Although I understand he is leaving this post to work for Mississippi Public Broadcasting) Mr. Agnew said he was taken to task by a reader who wanted to know why the paper was not expressing outrage over the paltry bond set for one of the teens charged in the crime.  Mr.  Agnew sensibly replied that newspapers do not dole out punishment for accused criminals.

But then he went on to say, “The case has received some national attention because of the hate crime allegation. Before those conclusions are reached, there are more basic questions that need answering, such as: What is an 18-year-old from Brandon doing out in the pre-dawn hours in front of a Jackson motel? Was there an altercation with Anderson that precipitated the incident?”

It doesn’t matter. IT DOESN’T MATTER. It doesn’t matter what anyone was doing out. It doesn’t matter if there was a drug deal. It doesn’t matter.  Oh, you got raped? Your skirt was too short. Oh, you got mugged? It’s stupid to carry cash. Oh, you were beaten and run over in a parking lot? You shouldn’t have been in that part of town anyway. Every account of this incident I’ve read talks about how small and frail the defendant looks. That’s supposed to matter? Let me explain this to you, it doesn’t matter how small you may be, when you are in a giant pickup truck, YOU ARE BIGGER AND MORE POWERFUL THAN THE MAN YOU RUN OVER. Is knowing he’s frail and pale supposed to make me feel sorry for him?

You know why people hate us, Mississippi? Because we lie to ourselves. You know why I’m making the giant leap from white kids beating and killing a black man to calling it a hate crime? Because it’s true. So if you want to sit there and wallow in your pity, go ahead. But leave the rest of us out of it. If you want to go on believing that the majority of black crime is perpetrated against white victims, keep your ridiculous, bigoted backwoods ways to yourself. You want to know why Mississippi can’t attract business? Because you steadfastly refuse to send white children to school with black children. Because you think job training is the same as welfare. Because every time someone points out inequality, you get your back up and start prattling on about hate crimes committed in Wisconsin. And you know what, I know it’s true BECAUSE I’VE DONE IT TOO. I’ve tried to say, hey, we’re not all that way. This stuff happens in other places, too. And it does. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is it’s happening in Mississippi. And that’s where I’m from. And we can produce all the Faulkners and Weltys and Andersons we want, but it’s not going to matter as long as we tie ourselves to some ridiculous idea of a simpler time when the Negro knew his place and plantation owners were just misunderstood businessmen.

This crime finally gets attention on Mississippi news stations and all of a sudden the internet lights up with stupid. That’s why people hate us. And, yes, some of the comments I’ve read from black people have been just as disgusting.

I sat here for a while after watching that video and just sort of crumpled. I’m angry. I’m sad. And I feel completely powerless. And no one should have to feel this way.

And, yes, I’m going to let justice take its course. And that probably means that another white man is going to get a smack on the wrist and a stern lecture for killing a black man.

You prove me wrong, Mississippi. You prove me wrong.

Mississippi Turning

So…

Things are bad when all I can think of is Lewis Grizzard. He had this bit about the South. He’d say if you don’t like it here, that’s fine. Delta’s ready when you are.

Yeah.

A few years ago I ran a clothing store. A woman from another of our stores had been in while I was on vacation and called later to tell me about how wonderful my staff was. This one young woman in particular. But she could not for the life of her remember the woman’s name. What did she look like seemed a good place to start. She was tall and thin. Well, that described both the women who worked for me. So I asked the next logical question: Was she black or white? Since, you know, one woman WAS black and one woman WAS white. Oh, the woman said, she didn’t notice such things. Obviously at that point I assumed I’d had a stroke that affected nothing but language processing. I’m sorry, I said, did you just say that you didn’t notice if the woman was white or black? Sometimes trying to be inclusive just makes you dumb.

A poll was just conducted in Mississippi by Public Policy Polling. PPP surveyed 400 Mississippians who were Republican primary voters. The questions were generally about potential Republican presidential candidates and potential Mississippi gubernatorial candidates. There were some assorted questions about basic stuff: Job performance of the Mississippi delegation, some basic demographics, and how the respondent feels about interracial marriage.

Wait. What?

Question 12: Do you think Roger Wicker (junior senator from Mississippi) is too liberal, too conservative, or about right?

Question 13: If the Republican primary for Senate next year was between Roger Wicker and a more conservative challenger, who would you vote for?

Question 14: Do you think interracial marriage should be legal or illegal?

Question 15: Would you describe yourself as very liberal, somewhat liberal, moderate, somewhat conservative, or very conservative?

But let me jump away from that for a second. Did you know I’m from Mississippi? I am. I’m a born and bred Mississippian currently living in Memphis, Tennessee. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it? I’m from Mississippi and here I am, typing on this fancy internet machine, talking to my straight/gay/bi/white/black/Hispanic/Scandinavian friends. Giving a little of my butter and egg money to Planned Parenthood so common sluts can have abortions. Listening to NPR. Writing a letter to my white girlfriend who is married to a black man.  I’m even wearing shoes whilst wondering is there enough arugula in the fridge to feed four of us tonight?

You thought that sort of thing only happened in Vermont, didn’t you?

Let me start in the obvious place: It is frightening that anyone thinks interracial marriage should be illegal. It is beyond the pale that this is still an issue. That we still find it necessary to ask that question IS A PROBLEM. Me? I thought it would be a moot point by now. I also thought we’d have jetpacks, so what do I know? But, come on, folks. Is there really a danger—and I mean REALLY—that Mississippi, or any other state is going to ban interracial marriage? Oh, hell no. And I’ll tell you why: The Gays. Keep your head in the game, people! It’s The Gays wanting all sorts of equal rights and shit who are going to continue to make this a non-issue. We’ve got to deal with the Godless Sodomites wanting RIDICULOUS rights like, like, being able to visit each other in the hospital!

But because, like Bible verses, statistics can be used to prove any point, I want to look at this a little closer.  Of the 400 respondents, 76% fell in the range of “somewhat conservative” to “very conservative”. Not a big deal since we’re talking Republicans. Sixty-eight percent of respondents were from 46 years old or older. (The breakdown is 36% 46-65 and 32% older than 65.) Am I surprised that in Mississippi, 68% of the 400 Republicans polled think interracial marriage is illegal? Nope. I also don’t really care.

I don’t want to sound crass, but those people aren’t the future of the state of Mississippi. Now, yes, attitudes are contagious and we have to assume that a large percentage of these people have spawned at some point. But you know what? That some 75 year-old dude in Eastabuchie, Mississippi who refers to the checkout clerk at Walmart as “that little colored girl” thinks there’s still such thing as a pure race and that we should defend it by locking up our wimmins to protect them from the Big Scary Black Man is not going to keep me awake at night. I’m concerned about MY kids. My elementary school-aged nephews in Mississippi. I mean, hell, one of them’s already praying to Zeus, the next thing you know HE COULD WANT TO BRING A BLACK KID HOME TO PLAY XBOX!! And once that happens, THEY MIGHT WANT TO SHARE A JUICE BOX!! OH, THE HUMANITY!!

And we might have thought that the attitudes of the people who grew up in Mississippi during the civil rights movement would be more lenient. But you know what? I’ve heard many a story from Baby Boomers about the resentment built up over “their” schools being thrown into a tumult during desegregation.

I’d also say that it appears—appears—based on the last two questions that at least some of this survey required people to input an answer via telephone keys rather than give a verbal response. Question 16 instructs the respondent to press 1 if she’s a woman and 2 if he’s a man. Now, that right there is a problem. Elderly Mississippians can’t be relied on to press a button. You gotta MASH a button. And you gotta mash it hard and sometimes multiple times. Just like an elevator button. So, right there, I think you have to throw out the classification questions. Clearly the questions are meant to be confusing to Southerners. Remember, we’re a people who have never been about to go to work, we’re a people who are fixin’ to go to work. Totally different things. Totally.

More than anything else, this poll makes me sad. When people see headlines that Mississippians think interracial marriage should be illegal, no one really takes the time to look at anything positive happening there. Most people won’t take the time to learn it was 46% of 400 Republicans. Well, except those of us who have lived with the good and the bad of the Deep South and love it anyway. And so people like me, people who discriminate based on whether or not you’re an asshat, not whether or not you’re a BLACK asshat, speak up and say, HEY! Over here! We’re not all jackasses! And then we get accused of being defensive, reactionary apologists. And we just have to pick up our granola bars and Fiji Waters and go cry in a corner of a locally-owned fair-trade coffee house.

According to data from the 2010 census, Mississippi’s multiracial population has increased 70% since the 2000 census.  And while some of this is attributed to a change in how people classify their own race, some of it is attributed to a high multiracial birth rate in Mississippi. And what of those kids? Are we really going to punish them because we can’t get over ourselves? Are we that frightened? I happen to think we’re not.

Earlier this week, I was in on a discussion about whether a specific church was welcoming to gay people. I happen to think that’s sort of a ridiculous question. You’re either welcoming or you’re not. And this is what I want MY generation’s legacy to be. I can be a positive force for change in a place I love. But I’m really not DOING anything. I write about it because I can. Because, honestly, sometimes that’s all I can do.  I hope that my stepkids, nephews, and nieces see diversity the way I do: Diversity makes life more interesting. I want them to understand the joy there is in finding commonality among people who, on the surface, seem to have nothing in common.

I could go on, but it’s Friday and I’m cutting into your beer-drinking time. So I’ll leave you with this final thought. I get calls a lot from pollsters. And never, not once, have I answered questions. I do not give out information over the phone. Never have. So you didn’t hear from me.