When Washington Post writer DeNeen Brown reported on how the long-documented history of lynchings in the South was far from contained in America’s past, with suspected cases continuing into the 2000s in Mississippi, reader after anonymous reader questioned the legitimacy of her work. One commenter called it “yellow journalism” another deemed Brown’s report “lots of race hysteria for limited substance.”
What the critics failed to acknowledge were the some five years of research Brown cited in including the work of Jill Collen Jefferson, a Harvard Law School graduate trained as an investigator under the late civil rights leader Julian Bond. Jefferson founded a civil rights organization named in Bond’s honor and has since 2017 been tracking cases of suspected lynchings, deemed hangings spanning from 2000 to 2019. There were eight in Mississippi alone, but they were all ruled suicides and treated as such from the moment investigators began their work, Jefferson told The Washington Post.
Warning: The video in this story contains violent images that may be triggering for some viewers.
The NAACP defines a lynching as “the public killing of an individual who has not received any due process.” Included in Jefferson’s list of suspected victims of lynchings was 49-year-old Craig Anderson, who was reportedly run over by a mob of 10 white teens yelling “white power.” They were said to have decided in advance to “go f–k with some n—–s,” the Post reported. Deryl Dedmon, John Rice, and Dylan Butler pleaded guilty to conspiracy and committing a hate crime, and during their sentencing U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeve said “a toxic mix of alcohol, foolishness and unadulterated hatred caused these young people to resurrect the nightmarish specter of lynchings and lynch mobs from the Mississippi we long forget.”
In what the Equal Justice Initiative counted to be more than 4,400 lynchings across the nation from 1877 to 1950, Mississippi reported 581, the highest account of any state. “The last recorded lynching in the United States was in 1981,” Jefferson said. “But the thing is, lynchings never stopped in the United States. Lynchings in Mississippi never stopped. The evil bastards just stopped taking photographs and passing them around like baseball cards.”
Raynard Johnson, a 17-year-old teen, was found “hanging from a pecan tree” on June 16, 2000, outside his own home in Kokomo, Mississippi, The Washington Post reported. Nick Naylor, 23, was found also hanging from a tree with a dog chain wrapped around his neck on Jan. 9, 2003, in Porterville, Mississippi. Roy Veal, 55; Frederick Jermaine Carter, 26; Otis Byrd, 54; Phillip Carroll, 22; and Deondrey Montreal Hopkins, 35, were all found hanging from trees, none of their deaths classified as homicides, the Post reported.
“There is a pattern to how these cases are investigated,” Jefferson said. “When authorities arrive on the scene of a hanging, it’s treated as a suicide almost immediately. The crime scene is not preserved. The investigation is shoddy. And then there is a formal ruling of suicide, despite evidence to the contrary. And the case is never heard from again unless someone brings it up.”
We saw that happen repeatedly over the last year in what many describe as modern-day lynchings of Black men and women at the hands of police. Bryan Stevenson, founder of the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative told National Geographic last June we have never confronted the “fiction that black people are not fully evolved and are less human, less worthy, and less deserving than white people.”
“This notion of white supremacy is what fueled a century of racial violence against black people, thousands of lynchings, mass killings, and a presumption of dangerousness and guilt that persists to this day,” Stevenson said. “So when Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor or George Floyd are killed, the immediate instinct of police, prosecutors, and too many elected officials is to protect the white people involved.”
In an Indiana case, a Black activist was charged with felony assault and misdemeanor trespassing in what he called his own attempted lynching. “There’s nothing more American than charging a Black man in his own attempted lynching,” Vauhxx Booker told reporters last Monday outside of an Indiana courthouse. Monroe County Special Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp filed the charges against Booker more than a year after the actual incident, which happened on July 4, 2020, near Bloomington, Indiana.
“For the entire year, the special prosecutor has pressured and bullied me at every turn that if I didn’t engage with the restorative justice, if I didn’t let charges be dismissed, that she would charge me,” Booker said. “It wasn’t out of any new evidence or any shocking revelations. It was simply that, once again, a Black person telling a White person ‘no’—and they were going to punish me.”
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