Earlier this week CNN posted a story of a surveillance video showing a 49-year-old man being run over and killed by a group of white teenagers in Jackson, Mississippi, for simply being black.
While the video of the attack on James Craig Anderson shocked many across the country, experts say this is only one incident in a long string of racialized hate crimes that have seemingly increased since Barack Obama was elected as the first black president–despite recent studies showing the contrary.
Reports say that Anderson, an auto plant worker, was assaulted by a group of white teenagers in the early morning of June 26. The group of eight, led by 18-year-old Deryl Dedmon Jr., drove 16 miles to a black neighborhood to “fuck with some niggers,” after a night of partying and drinking.
Dedmon along with John Aaron Rice, and six others, pulled over and attacked the first black man they saw-Anderson-in the parking lot of a motel. Witnesses say that during the beating, several racial epithets could be heard, including, “White Power!”
As evidenced by the video, part of the group then got back into a truck, driven by Dedmon, and drove over the injured man, killing him instantaneously.
Testimony by teenagers in the car said Dedmon was not remorseful about the slaying, bragging, “I ran that nigger over.”
Two of the teens, Dedmon and Rice have been charged with murder and assault, respectively. They’re both awaiting trial.
Though some are quick to write off the incident as another Southern race crime, Derrick Johnson, director of the Mississippi branch of the NAACP, says that the problem is not just confined to Mississippi.
“Jackson, Mississippi, is no different than the rest of America. We’ve seen a rise in the decorum and the dialogue of individuals since 2008. There’s been a lot of racially charged dialogue across the state just as there has been [racially charged dialogue] across the country. The Tea Party, the demonization of the President and general fear that people have, has caused an increase in the number of what appears to be racially motivated incidents,” he said.
Johnson says the reported racial incidents have run the gamut from harassment, to employment discrimination to an alleged hanging in Greenwood.
Statistics on hate crimes don’t exactly back this idea up. Hate crime statistics compiled by the FBI from 2009, the most recent year on record, show that the number of hate crimes actually has gone down in recent years. However, race related crimes, particularly anti-black crimes, still make up the majority of incidents reported.
Mark Potok, Director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center says statistics on hate crimes are notoriously unreliable, with underreporting, no reporting, or mischaracterization of crimes, being major problems. He believes that the number of hate crimes is vastly higher than the 6,604 incidents that the FBI reported in 2009, and believes the number of crimes for the same year is closer to the 148,400 that the Department of Justice cites, using a differently methodology.
“There is no really valid way of saying hate crimes are going up or going down. What the statistics tell you are not whether hate crimes are going up or going down, but that there is a very real and very significant problem out there,” he said.
Deborah M. Lauter, Director of Civil Rights at the Anti-Defamation League agrees that the focus should be less about the numbers and more about the acts.
“Every single one of these is shocking. Every single hate crime. The impact on the victim–it goes to the very core of their identity, and it’s just heart breaking. Hate crimes are serious, so even when we say the numbers are low, it’s kind of relative. If the statistics come out and they’re 7,000, 8,000 [incidents] a year, you’re talking one every hour, every day that an individual community is dealing with.”
Members of these civil rights groups all agree that it is the cataclysmic collision of events that have caused such a tense racial climate, starting with the election of Obama, the economic recession, and the debate over immigration reform.
Potok said a recent number of events, some of which covered by the mainstream media and others overlooked, provide enough anecdotal evidence that we’re “living through a period of some very real racial divisions.” He said cases like the Jena 6 in Louisiana, the MLK parade bomb plot in Seattle, and the neo-nazi vigilante in Arizona all prove that racial hate is alive, well and doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon.
“For a fairly significant number of whites in this country, there is the feeling that the country they imagined their Christian white forefathers built is somehow being taken away from them,” said Potok.
Lauter says these type of feelings are sure to explode as we enter a contentious election season, debt ceiling talks resume, and Wall Street struggles to find stability.
“It’s going to be a difficult 2012 season. When I turn on the TV and hear our legislators screaming at each other, the breakdown in civility does give us great cause for concern. I think there’s just lot of angst below and on top of the surface and while most people wont act out there are those who will. The worst case is going to be those who take the rhetoric and turn it into some kind violent reaction, so we’re nervous.”