James C. Anderson stood near his car on an early morning in June, unknowingly standing as a target for a group of excited, crazed teens on a mission.
He was ran over in a motel parking lot in Jackson, Mississippi and The NY Times reports that his death could have, at first, been connected to an accidental hit and run. But a motel security camera caught the incident on tape – CNN posted the video on its website on Sunday, prompting additional interest in the case.
Hinds County district attorney, Robert Shuler Smith, is sure that a group of white teenagers from a predominantly white town only 16 miles away, beat and killed Anderson, who was African American. One witness says they came to Jackson looking for African Americans to “mess with.”
“This is the first business that you get to coming off the highway, and so that was the first person that was out here and vulnerable,” Smith told CNN.
The district attorney says Anderson was standing near his car at a motel in Jackson at about 5 am on Sunday, June 26. Two carloads of teenagers then got off the Interstate and drove into the motel parking lot. Some jumped from the vehicles to beat Anderson and as he tripped around the parking lot, he was run over by a green Ford F250 pickup truck. A local hospital later pronounced Anderson dead.
One motel worker who witnessed the assault says one of them yelled “white power” after they beat the man. Others who saw it take place, said they heard a suspect laugh and brag about the incident. While two carloads of teens were involved, Deryl Dedmon, a skinny 18-year-old man with blond hair, was the driver of the vehicle that killed Anderson. He has been charged with murder and is in jail on an $800,000 bond. There were two teenage girls in the truck with him but police say they were not charged.
Another 18-year-old, John A Rice, was at first charged with murder but a judge reduced the charges to simple assault. He has been released on bail. This month a grand jury will hear the case and prosecutors will argue that it was a hate crime and a murder and that both teens should be convicted. Smith says that these teens “have a history of harassing white teens who had black friends or gay teens.”
Dedmon’s uncle Ray Dedmon says his nephew was a “good boy” who “probably got with the wrong crowd.” A Facebook page supports Rice’s case, with his friends arguing his innocence. His great-aunt says that he is neither “a racist or a murderer,” and that she is “sick of the race card.” But the case has Jackson residents and surrounding towns wondering how far the state has come in race relations. While Smith tells NY Times that “this does not happen very often,” he also says “it’s still highly segregated in most ways” with high racial tension in some groups.
“There’s no way to get around it,” he said. “It is what it is.”