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Mississippi city, site of attack that sparked SPLC lawsuit, passes hate crime ordinance

A Mississippi city with a long history of racially motivated violence has enacted an  ordinance to improve the collection and reporting of hate crime data in reaction to growing concerns in the wake of the Charleston church massacre.

A Mississippi city with a long history of racially motivated violence has enacted an ordinance to improve the collection and reporting of hate crime data in reaction to growing concerns in the wake of the Charleston church massacre.

The ordinance passed unanimously by the Jackson City Council this week requires new training measures and new guidelines for collecting and documenting hate crime data. The police department will also provide the council with an annual report on hate crimes committed in the city.

Jackson is the site of a 2011 hate crime that sparked an SPLC lawsuit against seven white teens involved in the brutal murder of James Craig Anderson, a black man they attacked at random.

Law enforcement agencies nationwide collect and report hate crime data to the FBI. But under the voluntary system, many agencies do little or nothing to track and report them. The FBI’s most recent data show there were 5,928 hate crimes committed in 2013, including just four in Mississippi.

But, because of the reporting flaws, those numbers vastly understate the problem. A comprehensive analysis by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Statistics in 2013 showed that roughly 260,000 are victimized by hate crime each year.

Jody Owens, managing attorney for the SPLC’s Mississippi office said he hopes the action by Jackson city officials will lead other cities to take a similar step.

“Mississippi has a long history of hate crimes perpetrated against individuals based on the color of their skin, even in recent years,” Owens said. “The city ordinance is an important measure to ensure local law enforcement officials are provided proper training on identifying hate crimes and ensuring that these crimes are documented accurately in their reports.”

The ordinance was passed on June 30, Anderson’s birthday. He was killed in June 2011 during an attack by a group of white teenagers who routinely mounted racially motivated assaults against black people in Jackson. The 47-year-old Anderson died after he was deliberately run down by a pickup truck. Footage of the murder captured by a security camera was broadcast on CNN.

Those involved were convicted under the federal Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The SPLC represented the Anderson family in a wrongful death lawsuit against seven white teenagers. It ended in a confidential settlement in 2012.

At its next meeting the city council will consider a resolution honoring Anderson’s life.

Nearly a half century before Anderson’s death, Jackson was the site of the murder of NAACP official Medgar Evers, who was shot in the back by a Klansman at his home in 1963.

“Our state has a deep-rooted history of racially motivated crimes, including the murder of Emmett Till, the assassination of Medgar Evers and the brutal murder of James Craig Anderson,” said Council President De’Keither Stamps, sponsor of the ordinance. “The passage of this ordinance will ensure an efficient process and system to accurately report hate crimes, so we can encourage victims of these malicious acts to report these occurrences and be more proactive in fighting these malicious acts.”