Black Mississippi Judge Sentences Three White Murderers, Teaches Racial History

Judge Reeves (top),Co-defendents Deryl Paul Dedmon (left), Dylan Wade Butler (center), John Aaron Rice (right)

A black Mississippi judge sentenced three white men for a brutal murder than was the culmination of a violent crime spree directed at the black community in Jackson, Mississippi.

In the spring of 2011, James Craig Anderson, a 49-year-old African-American autoworker, was beaten and then run over with a truck. His assailants, Deryl Paul Dedmon, who was 18-years-old at the time, John Aaron Rice, and Dylan Wade Butler, yelled “white power” during and after the murder, according to Raw Story.

NBC News reports that the prosecutors in the case said the men planned a series of beatings and attacks on black people whom they perceived to be homeless or drunk in order to decrease the likelihood of their crimes being reported. According to CNN, Anderson’s murder was caught on surveillance video.

The judge in this case, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, is one of just two African Americans to have ever served as federal judges in Mississippi. Judge Reeves handed down his sentence but not before giving the defendants a history lesson about race relations in Mississippi. Prior to sentencing, Judge Reeves had the defendants listen to a lengthy speech he had prepared.

Among other things, Reeves cited several books that attempt to understand the violence that marks Mississippi’s racial history, such as A New History of Mississippi by Dennis Mitchell, one of Reeves’ former history professors, and Mississippi: An American Journey by Anthony Walton. In his speech, Reeves quotes a question Walton poses in his book when referring to the 40 names of people who died seeking racial equality that are engraved on the wall of the Civil Rights Memorial, “How was it that half who died did so in one state?” Nineteen of the 40 people who are memorialized on the wall died in Mississippi.

Reeves went on to describe lynching as a hallmark of the United States’ violent past, saying, “Lynchings were prevalent, prominent and participatory. A lynching was a public ritual — even carnival-like — within many states in our great nation.”

Reeves also invoked the names of well-known victims of lynching like Emmitt Till and Medgar Evers, as well as lesser-known ones like Luther Holbert and his wife, Elmo Curl.

Reeves said, “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.”

Dedmon received a sentence of 50 years in prison. Rice, 21, was sentenced to more than 18 years. Butler, 23, received a prison term of seven years. Dedmon was already serving two life sentences handed down by a state judge.

Read Judge Reeves’ speech in its entirety at NPR.

[Image: Judge Reeves (top),Co-defendants Deryl Paul Dedmon (left), Dylan Wade Butler (center), John Aaron Rice (right)]