A news story that has been on my radar for the past few months is that of seven Mississippi teens who allegedly beat up and killed a man, a stranger, because he was African-American.
After a night of drinking in late June, the teens drove across town with the goal of “messing with” an African-American. Once they found a victim, James Craig Anderson, they beat him up and one of the teens, Deryl Paul Dedmon, ran over Anderson with a pickup truck, killing him. According to CNN, Desmon laughed with friends afterwards, proud of running the man over.
When I read this article, I was shocked that anyone could carry so much hate for the unknown “other” that they would attack and kill a person. I couldn’t imagine interacting with a person who thought and behaved like this. I wondered about Dedmon’s thoughts, what he felt and how he could decide to manifest his hate in such a violent way.
Three months after the attack, CNN posted an article stating that Anderson’s family sent a letter to the Hinds County District Attorney requesting that Dedmon not receive the death penalty because “[their] loss will not be lessened by the state taking the life of another.” Their decision stems from their religious beliefs and a refusal to try to balance the scales of racism and violence with more violence.
Instead, the family founded an institute for racial tolerance in Anderson’s name and hope that their declaration will incite dialogue to end capital punishment.
I can’t begin to imagine the pain this family must be feeling and in the midst of their loss they chose to speak out and make a counter-cultural statement.
Their decision can serve as an inspiration for us. If they can be compassionate peacemakers after the murder of their family member, surely we can do better as we conflict with each other over comparatively minor things.