In South Carolina last week, yet another unarmed, black man was killed by a white police officer. This slaying, as well as the officer’s planting of evidence, was caught on film. Somehow this is supposed to be different from other shootings of unarmed black men and boys in this country. The department has terminated the officer’s employment, meaning the chances for a conviction may be greater. We will have to wait and see. Holding your breath may not be wise.
Here in Mississippi last week, Federal Judge Henry Wingate, appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan, sentenced two young women to 5 years and 8 years in prison a for conspiracy to commit a hate crime in James Craig Anderson’s death.
All together, ten teens have been charged with terrorizing, beating, and killing Anderson, a black male, during the summer of 2011. Federal Judge Carlton Reeves earlier sentenced three young men involved in the murder. In a very moving court speech Reeves spoke of Mississippi’s tortured past and the progress we have made. He said Anderson’s murder had “ripped off the scab of the healing scars of Mississippi … causing her, our Mississippi, to bleed again.”
If you pick at it long enough, eventually you’ll rip it off. These white teenagers left a party, traveled to Jackson, a place they referred to as “J’Africa,” with the intent of assaulting African Americans. They had done it before and gotten away with it. J’Africa: such a clever racist term. You wonder if the kids made it up or heard it from somewhere else, some adult perhaps.
Hate crimes like this happen all over our country, stemming from our unique ability to belittle and degrade entire groups of people through our language and our actions. It is so easy to convince ourselves that other people are somehow less important, less human than we are.
A similar hate crime took place in the city of Philadelphia, PA, last summer when a dozen young people nearly beat to death a homosexual couple on a public street. Many of the culprits jumped on Twitter and Facebook to brag. Their comments were filled with clever homophobic rants. Again, you wonder if they made it up themselves or heard it from someone else.
We can all pray that our own children are far and away more decent, loving, caring and responsible young adults. Young adults that understand everyone is deserving of love and respect. But, we have to do more than pray. We have to work to set not just a good example, but the best possible example we can.
Teenagers who laugh and joke about killing blacks, who tease and beat up gays, who grow up to become police officers who shoot to kill an unarmed man – unarmed and running away, they are OUR children. The children who killed Anderson were born and raised in Mississippi. Forged on an anvil of inequality, elitism, prejudice, consumerism and fear. These children are just what we created them to be.
Yes, you can blame our schools. Public and Private. Our worst schools with little community and financial support are simply warehouses with worn down teachers and poor administrators. Our best schools in more affluent communities are filled with white, upper-middle-class children. These schools are better designed to funnel these kids into our university system and on into a privileged adulthood.
A consumer-driven, corporatist culture has taken over our education system and helped to desensitize our children. The system feeds and enables more affluent children to view themselves as entitled, if not superior. Educators, coaches, administrators that came into contact with the James Craig Anderson’s murders should be doing some serious soul searching. What examples were being set? What was said and done? What was left unsaid and undone?
If these children attended church regularly, every church member should ask God for forgiveness. What examples did Sunday School teachers, youth ministers, pastors and clergy set for these young people? What did congregants and parishioners do or not do?
What was said or left unsaid in church? What message was given to these young people? Too many of our churches preach hate, distrust, and fear of others. And while not every church preaches hate from the pulpit, there are still the nods and winks in the fellowship halls and various church activities.
It is not just the parents of these children, we should all consider carefully the things we say. Children will listen. We must consider carefully what we do. Children will act accordingly. These children did not become evil in a vacuum. This type of mob mentality is incubated and fostered. Now James Craig Anderson is dead and these children’s lives are ruined forever.
Judge Wingate gave the two young women he sentenced a chance to apologize to Anderson’s family in court. One of the young ladies said, “It was the worst decision of my life. I followed a lot of people with hate in their hearts… and I’m sorry for the actions I didn’t take to save Mr. Anderson’s life.”
The other said, “I was a teenager who partied too much and wanted to fit in with the crowd, and I’ve asked myself so many times, ‘Why was I so afraid? Why was I so stupid? Why did I drink so much?'”
Young people have fallen in love with excessive drinking and the glamor of the all-night party. It is an out of control craving for some local or school celebrity status, the product of rabid consumerism and the sense of entitlement pervasive in our more affluent communities. We are creating self-centered and unapologetic children. Like their parents, they want to view themselves as victims, picking up the mantra: “our” way of life is threatened by “them” – meaning the minorities, the homosexuals, the atheists, the Muslims, and whoever else “they” may be.
It’s time for all of us, our national and state leadership, churches, schools, communities and families, to work harder to stop the cycle of hate that finds its way into the minds of our children and continues to tear us apart.
» David Dallas is a political writer for the Mississippi Business Journal. He worked for former U.S. Sen. John Stennis and authored Barking Dawgs and A Gentleman from Mississippi.