[Blackstudies-l] A Judge's Speech when sentencing three white men for the brutal murder of a 48-year-old black man in Jackson, MIssissippi
lima at geneseo.edu
Sun Feb 22 10:16:08 EST 2015
A Black Mississippi Judge's Breathtaking Speech To 3 White Murderers
FEBRUARY 13, 201512:54 PM ET
[image: U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves, for the Southern District of
U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves, for the Southern District of
Courtesy of cleoinc.org
*Here's an astonishing speech by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who in
2010 became the second African-American appointed as federal judge in
Mississippi. He read it to three young white men before sentencing them for
the death of a 48-year-old black man named James Craig Anderson in a
parking lot in Jackson, Miss., one night in 2011. They were part of a group
that beat Anderson and then killed him by running over his body with a
truck, yelling "white power" as they drove off.*
*The speech is long; Reeves asked the young men to sit down while he read
it aloud in the courtroom. And it's breathtaking, in both the moral force
of its arguments and the palpable sadness with which they are delivered. We
have decided to publish the speech, which we got from the blog Breach of
Peace <http://breachofpeace.com/blog/?p=612>, in its entirety below. A
warning to readers: He uses the word "nigger" 11 times.*
One of my former history professors, Dennis Mitchell, recently released a
history book entitled, *A New History of Mississippi*. "Mississippi," he
says, "is a place and a state of mind. The name evokes strong reactions
from those who live here and from those who do not, but who think they know
something about its people and their past." Because of its past, as
described by Anthony Walton in his book, *Mississippi: An American Journey*,
Mississippi "can be considered one of the most prominent scars on the map"
of these United States. Walton goes on to explain that "there is something
different about Mississippi; something almost unspeakably primal and
vicious; something savage unleashed there that has yet to come to rest." To
prove his point, he notes that, "[o]f the 40 martyrs whose names are
inscribed in the national Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, AL, 19 were
killed in Mississippi." "How was it," Walton asks, "that half who died did
so in one state?" — my Mississippi, your Mississippi and our Mississippi.
Mississippi has expressed its savagery in a number of ways throughout its
history — slavery being the cruelest example, but a close second being
Mississippi's infatuation with lynchings. Lynchings were prevalent,
prominent and participatory. A lynching was a public ritual — even
carnival-like — within many states in our great nation. While other states
engaged in these atrocities, those in the Deep South took a leadership
role, especially that scar on the map of America — those 82 counties
between the Tennessee line and the Gulf of Mexico and bordered by
Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama.
Vivid accounts of brutal and terrifying lynchings in Mississippi are
chronicled in various sources: Ralph Ginzburg's *100 Years of Lynching
Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America*, just to name two. But I note
that today, the Equal Justice Initiative released Lynching in America:
Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror
it too is a must-read.
"They came ready to hurt. They used dangerous weapons; they targeted the
weak; they recruited and encouraged others to join in the coordinated
chaos; and they boasted about their shameful activity. This was a 2011
version of the nigger hunts."
- Carlton Reeves, U.S. district judge
In *Without Sanctuary*, historian Leon Litwack writes that between 1882 and
1968 an estimated 4,742 blacks met their deaths at the hands of lynch mobs.
The impact this campaign of terror had on black families is impossible to
explain so many years later. That number contrasts with the 1,401 prisoners
who have been executed legally in the United States since 1976. In modern
terms, that number represents more than those killed in Operation Iraqi
Freedom and more than twice the number of American casualties in Operation
Enduring Freedom — the Afghanistan conflict. Turning to home, this number
also represents 1,700 more than who were killed on Sept. 11. Those who died
at the hands of mobs, Litwack notes, some were the victims of "legal"
lynchings — having been accused of a crime, subjected to a "speedy" trial
and even speedier execution. Some were victims of private white violence
and some were merely the victims of "nigger hunts" — murdered by a variety
of means in isolated rural sections and dumped into rivers and creeks.
"Back in those days," according to black Mississippians describing the
violence of the 1930s, "to kill a Negro wasn't nothing. It was like killing
a chicken or killing a snake. The whites would say, 'niggers jest supposed
to die, ain't no damn good anyway — so jest go an' kill 'em.' ... They had
to have a license to kill anything but a nigger. We was always in season."
Said one white Mississippian, "A white man ain't a-going to be able to live
in this country if we let niggers start getting biggity." And, even when
lynchings had decreased in and around Oxford, one white resident told a
visitor of the reaffirming quality of lynchings: "It's about time to have
another [one]," he explained, "[w]hen the niggers get so that they are
afraid of being lynched, it is time to put the fear in them."
How could hate, fear or whatever it was transform genteel, God-fearing,
God-loving Mississippians into mindless murderers and sadistic torturers? I
ask that same question about the events which bring us together on this
day. Those crimes of the past, as well as these, have so damaged the psyche
and reputation of this great state.
Mississippi soil has been stained with the blood of folk whose names have
become synonymous with the civil rights movement like Emmett Till, Willie
McGee, James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Vernon Dahmer,
George W. Lee, Medgar Evers and Mack Charles Parker. But the blood of the
lesser-known people like Luther Holbert and his wife, Elmo Curl, Lloyd
Clay, John Hartfield, Nelse Patton, Lamar Smith, Clinton Melton, Ben
Chester White, Wharlest Jackson and countless others, saturates these
48,434 square miles of Mississippi soil. On June 26, 2011, four days short
of his 49th birthday, the blood of James Anderson was added to
The common denominator of the deaths of these individuals was not their
race. It was not that they all were engaged in freedom fighting. It was not
that they had been engaged in criminal activity, trumped up or otherwise.
No, the common denominator was that the last thing that each of these
individuals saw was the inhumanity of racism. The last thing that each felt
was the audacity and agony of hate, senseless hate: crippling, maiming them
and finally taking away their lives.
"In the name of White Power, these young folk went to 'Jafrica' to 'fuck
with some niggers!' — echoes of Mississippi's past."
- Carlton Reeves, U.S. district Judge
Mississippi has a tortured past, and it has struggled mightily to reinvent
itself and become a New Mississippi. New generations have attempted to pull
Mississippi from the abyss of moral depravity in which it once so proudly
floundered in. Despite much progress and the efforts of the new
generations, these three defendants are before me today: Deryl Paul Dedmon,
Dylan Wade Butler and John Aaron Rice. They and their co-conspirators
ripped off the scab of the healing scars of Mississippi ... causing her
(our Mississippi) to bleed again.
Hate comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and from this case, we know it
comes in different sexes and ages. 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 to forget.
Like the marauders of ages past, these young folk conspired, planned, and
coordinated a plan of attack on certain neighborhoods in the city of
Jackson for the sole purpose of harassing, terrorizing, physically
assaulting and causing bodily injury to black folk. They punched and kicked
them about their bodies — their heads, their faces. They prowled. They came
ready to hurt. They used dangerous weapons; they targeted the weak; they
recruited and encouraged others to join in the coordinated chaos; and they
boasted about their shameful activity. This was a 2011 version of the
Though the media and the public attention of these crimes have been focused
almost exclusively on the early morning hours of June 26, 2011, the
defendants' terror campaign is not limited to this one incident. There were
many scenes and many actors in this sordid tale which played out over days,
weeks and months. There are unknown victims like the John Doe at the golf
course who begged for his life and the John Doe at the service station.
Like a lynching, for these young folk going out to "Jafrica" was like a
carnival outing. It was funny to them — an excursion which culminated in
the death of innocent, African-American James Craig Anderson. On June 26,
2011, the fun ended.
But even after Anderson's murder, the conspiracy continued ... And, only
because of a video, which told a different story from that which had been
concocted by these defendants, and the investigation of law enforcement —
state and federal law enforcement working together — was the truth
What is so disturbing ... so shocking ... so numbing ... is that these
nigger hunts were perpetrated by our children ... students who live among
us ... educated in our public schools ... in our private academies ...
students who played football lined up on the same side of scrimmage line
with black teammates ... average students and honor students. Kids who
worked during school and in the summers; kids who now had full-time jobs
and some of whom were even unemployed. Some were pursuing higher education
and the Court believes they each had dreams to pursue. These children were
from two-parent homes and some of whom were the children of divorced
parents, and yes some even raised by a single parent. No doubt, they all
had loving parents and loving families.
In letters received on his behalf, Dylan Butler, whose outing on the night
of June 26 was not his first, has been described as "a fine young man," "a
caring person," "a well mannered man" who is truly remorseful and wants to
move on with his life ... a very respectful ... a good man ... a good
person ... a lovable, kindhearted teddy bear who stands in front of bullies
... and who is now ashamed of what he did. Butler's family is a mixed-race
family: For the last 15 years, it has consisted of an African-American
stepfather and stepsister, plus his mother and two sisters. The family,
according to the stepfather, understandably is "saddened and heartbroken."
These were everyday students like John Aaron Rice, who got out of his
truck, struck James Anderson in the face and kept him occupied until others
arrived. ... Rice was involved in multiple excursions to so-called
"Jafrica", but he, for some time, according to him and his mother, and an
African-American friend shared his home address.
"What is so disturbing ... so shocking ... so numbing ... is that these
nigger hunts were perpetrated by our children ... students who live among
- Carlton W. Reeves, U.S. district judge
And, sadly, Deryl Dedmon, who straddled James Anderson and struck him
repeatedly in the face and head with his closed fists. He too was a
"normal" young man indistinguishable in so many ways from his peers. Not
completely satisfied with the punishment to which he subjected James
Anderson, he "deliberately used his vehicle to run over James Anderson —
killing him." Dedmon now acknowledges he was filled with anger.
I asked the question earlier, but what could transform these young adults
into the violent creatures their victims saw? It was nothing the victims
did ... they were not championing any cause ... political ... social ...
economic ... nothing they did ... not a wolf whistle ... not a supposed
crime ... nothing they did. There is absolutely no doubt that in the view
of the court the victims were targeted because of their race.
The simple fact is that what turned these children into criminal defendants
was their joint decision to act on racial hatred. In the eyes of these
defendants (and their co-conspirators) the victims were doomed at birth.
... Their genetic makeup made them targets.
In the name of White Power, these young folk went to "Jafrica" to "fuck
with some niggers!" — echoes of Mississippi's past. White Power! Nigger!
According to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, that word, nigger, is the
"universally recognized opprobrium, stigmatizing African-Americans because
of their race." It's the nuclear bomb of racial epithets — as Farai Chideya
has described the term. With their words, with their actions — "I just ran
that nigger over" — there is no doubt that these crimes were motivated by
the race of the victims. And from his own pen, Dedmon, sadly and
regretfully wrote that he did it out of "hatred and bigotry."
The court must respond to one letter it received from one identified as a
youth leader in Dylan Butler's church — a mentor, he says — and who
describes Dylan as "a good person." The point that "[t]here are plenty of
criminals that deserve to be incarcerated," is well taken. Your point that
Dylan is not one of them — not a criminal ... is belied by the facts and
the law. Dylan was an active participant in this activity, and he deserves
to be incarcerated under the law. What these defendants did was ugly ... it
was painful ... it is sad ... and it is indeed criminal.
In the Mississippi we have tried to bury, when there was a jury verdict for
those who perpetrated crimes and committed lynchings in the name of White
Power ... that verdict typically said that the victim died at the hands of
persons unknown. The legal and criminal justice system operated with
ruthless efficiency in upholding what these defendants would call White
Today, though, the criminal justice system (state and federal) has
proceeded methodically, patiently and deliberately seeking justice. Today
we learned the identities of the persons unknown ... they stand here
publicly today. The sadness of this day also has an element of irony to it:
Each defendant was escorted into court by agents of an African-American
United States Marshal, having been prosecuted by a team of lawyers which
includes an African-American AUSA from an office headed by an
African-American U.S. attorney — all under the direction of an
African-American attorney general, for sentencing before a judge who is
African-American, whose final act will be to turn over the care and custody
of these individuals to the BOP [Federal Bureau of Prisons] — an agency
headed by an African-American.
Today we take another step away from Mississippi's tortured past ... we
move farther away from the abyss. Indeed, Mississippi is a place and a
state of mind. And those who think they know about her people and her past
will also understand that her story has not been completely written.
Mississippi has a present and a future. That present and future has
promise. As demonstrated by the work of the officers within these state and
federal agencies — black and white, male and female, in this Mississippi
they work together to advance the rule of law. Having learned from
Mississippi's inglorious past, these officials know that in advancing the
rule of law, the criminal justice system must operate without regard to
race, creed or color. This is the strongest way Mississippi can reject
those notions — those ideas which brought us here today.
[image: A new exhibit at the Mississippi state archives includes
photographs, excerpts from journals and film clips documenting 1964's
CODE SWITCH <http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/>Mississippi Marks 50
Years Since History-Changing 'Freedom Summer'
At their guilty plea hearings, Deryl Paul Dedmon, Dylan Wade Butler and
John Aaron Rice told the world exactly what their roles were ... it is ugly
... it is painful ... it is sad ... it is criminal.
The court now sentences the defendants as follows: [The specific sentences
are not part of the judge's prepared remarks.]
The court has considered the advisory guidelines computations and the
sentencing factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). The court has considered the
defendants' history and characteristics. The court has also considered
unusual circumstances — the extraordinary circumstances — and the peculiar
seriousness and gravity of those offenses. I have paid special attention to
the plea agreements and the recommendations of the United States. I have
read the letters received on behalf of the defendants. I believe these
sentences provide just punishment to each of these defendants and equally
important, I believe they serve as adequate deterrence to others and I hope
that these sentences will discourage others from heading down a similar
life-altering path. I have considered the sentencing guidelines and the
policy statements and the law. These sentences are the result of much
thought and deliberation.
These sentences will not bring back James Craig Anderson nor will they
restore the lives they enjoyed prior to 2011. The court knows that James
Anderson's mother, who is now 89 years old, lived through the horrors of
the Old Mississippi, and the court hopes that she and her family can find
peace in knowing that with these sentences, in the New Mississippi, justice
is truly blind. Justice, however, will not be complete unless these
defendants use the remainder of their lives to learn from this experience
and fully commit to making a positive difference in the New Mississippi.
And, finally, the court wishes that the defendants also can find peace.
*Reeves is a U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of
Mississippi. He made waves last November when he ruled Mississippi's
same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional
That case is currently under appeal in the Fifth Circuit Court.*
CorrectionFeb. 19, 2015
An earlier version of this article stated that judge Carlton Reeves was one
of only two African-American federal judges in Mississippi history. He was
the second African-American to be appointed as a federal judge in
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Maria Helena Lima
Department of English
Comparative Literature Director
Geneseo, NY 14454
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