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Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez Speaks at a Press Conference Regarding Guilty Pleas in Mississippi
Jackson, Miss. ~ Thursday, March 22, 2012

As prepared for delivery

Today is an important day in the journey for justice for the family of James Craig Anderson, and other African American victims of senseless, racially motivated violence in Jackson.  Earlier today, the Department of Justice secured guilty pleas from three of the individuals responsible for the brutal, racially motivated murder of James Anderson.  This is the eighth case brought under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and the first involving the death of a victim.  The Shepard-Byrd Act was named in memory of James Byrd Jr., who died a horrific death in Jasper, Texas, after being dragged behind a pick-up truck on an asphalt road with his ankles bound by a chain.  Mr. Byrd’s death shocked the conscience of the nation.  Sadly, the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Anderson are a shocking reminder of how hate fueled violence manifests itself in unthinkable ways.

 

This is a case about a group of racist thugs who made a sport of targeting vulnerable African Americans in Jackson, and attacking them without provocation, simply because of the color of their skin.  On a number of occasions, they drove around Jackson looking for African Americans to assault.  Jackson is a venerable community.  However, for these defendants, Jackson was “Jafrica”; African Americans were subhuman, and their mission was to drive around Jackson looking for African Americans to attack.  They used many different weapons in carrying out their sport.  Beer bottles and fists were typical tools of their trade.  They took great pleasure one evening in watching one victim plead for his life after they had brutally assaulted him.  

 

Their sport took a deadly turn on the early morning of June 26, 2011.  On that fateful morning, defendants Deryl Dedmon, Dylan Wade Butler and John Aaron Rice and others were driving around Jackson looking for African Americans to attack when they spotted James Craig Anderson, a 47-year-old African American who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.   Defendants Rice and Butler spotted Mr. Anderson and concluded that he was an inviting target, and they corralled him while Dedmon and others arrived.  After Mr. Anderson got back to his feet, defendant Dedmon and others got into what became the murder weapon, a Ford F-250 pickup truck, which weighs over a ton, and proceeded to deliberately run over Mr. Anderson.  As they drove away, one of the participants placed a call on a cell phone bragging about their accomplishment.     

 

Following the murder of James Byrd Jr., I travelled to Texas as part of the Justice Department’s investigation and, among other things, toured the crime scene with the case investigators.  I remember vividly reflecting on how it was possible that such a depraved act could have occurred.  I hoped that such a crime would never occur again.  Sadly, I was mistaken.  Yesterday, defendant Dedmon pleaded guilty to a state charge of depraved heart murder.  That description is a spot on characterization of this hate crime. 

 

We would like to think that horrific crimes such as these are in the history books, not today’s headlines.  Sadly, hate crimes remain a persistent problem in our nation .  We must and will remain ever vigilant in our common humanity to root out hate and violence when it rears its ugly face.  Hate crimes such as this simply have no place in Jackson, in Mississippi or anywhere in America.  No one in our nation should live in fear being attacked because of the color of their skin, their ethnicity, the God they choose to worship or whom they love.

 

The Justice Department will use every tool at its disposal to root out hate crimes.  The Civil Rights Division, in conjunction with its partners in the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the FBI, has aggressively focused on prosecuting hate crime cases, and our prosecutions are on the rise.  Last year, the department convicted the most defendants on hate crimes charges in over a decade.  And, over the past three fiscal years, the department has prosecuted 35 percent more hate crime cases than during the preceding three year period.  The Byrd-Shepard law is a critical new tool for combating hate crimes.  Already, 27 defendants have been charged in cases across the country.  There is an undeniable headwind of intolerance that rears its ugly head in different ways, whether it is today’s events or the arson of mosques, assaults on immigrants and brutal attacks of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered.  

 

Our work is not finished, either here in Jackson or across America.  Let me be clear about this case.  Yesterday’s state court plea and today’s guilty pleas of the three defendants mark an important milestone in this investigation.  But our work is not finished, and our investigation continues, and I fully expect additional activity.  We will not rest until every responsible individual is brought to justice. 

 

Last year, I had the privilege of traveling to Jackson to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders historic and courageous journey for justice.  It was a memorable day here in Jackson.   Mississippi and indeed America have come a long way in the journey for equal opportunity.  Today’s guilty pleas should not obscure the progress we have made in Jackson and communities across America in ensuring equal justice under law.  At the same time, today’s guilty pleas and the horrific facts of this hate crime are another reminder that civil rights remains the unfinished business of America.

 

I had an opportunity to meet with some of the victim’s family members.  You have shown enormous patience and fortitude in the face of this tragedy.  Days like today are invariably bittersweet for loved ones.  Nothing we can do will bring Mr. Anderson back.  I am hopeful that yesterday’s and today’s guilty pleas bring some sense of justice for Mr. Anderson’s loving friends and family.  Again, I assure you that our work is not done. 

 

We are grateful to our partners in this investigation and prosecution.  I’d like to personally thank United States Attorney John Dowdy and his office for their partnership; Special Agent in Charge Dan McMullen and the FBI for dedicating tremendous resources and countless man hours in this investigation, including conducting more than 200 interviews; District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith and his office for their work and cooperation in reaching global dispositions on these three defendants; and Chief Rebecca Coleman and the Jackson Police Department for their participation in the investigation. 

 

 

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