Matthew Whitten Darby, a white teen, is
scheduled to go on trial in February for the hit and run murder in July, 2012
of 61 year old John Butts, a Sunday school teacher, cancer survivor, and an
African-American. As it now stands, Whitten
will not be hit with a hate crime charge in the murder. Panola County,
Mississippi prosecuting attorney John Champion is adamant that Darby had
absolutely no racial motive in running down Butts. But Champion is either a
mentalist or has information that no one else has about why Darby killed Butts.
How else to explain why he has ignored these facts. The two white teens with
Darby said that he could clearly see that Butts was black, turned the steering
wheel toward him, and deliberately plowed into him. He got out examined the
body and then drove away. The mother of one of the white teens flatly said that
Butts was killed because he was black. Investigators did not probe why three
white teens from another Mississippi county were tooling around a rural and
predominantly African-American area of the county.
The cavalier rejection by the
prosecutor, the county sheriff, and county officials that race was the reason
Butts was brutally murdered stands in stark contrast to the way officials in
Hinds County, Mississippi treated the savage beating and car murder a year
earlier of James Craig Anderson. In that case, the perpetrators were six white
teens that beat and ran over Anderson, an African-American, were slapped with
federal hate crimes charges. The driver was nailed with state hate crime
charges and murder. He pled guilty to both.
In both cases, the weapon of choice to
kill the two black men was a vehicle, and the killers were white teens. The shocking
Anderson murder was caught on videotape, and repeatedly shown on cable
networks. It ignited a storm of rage, and triggered marches, demonstrations,
and prayer vigils in which protestors demanded that the teens be charged with a
racial hate crime. The prosecuting attorney in the Anderson murder was an
African-American. Champion is white.
As always in racially motivated hate
murders, the standard what if is what if Butts had been white? And he had been
viciously run down on the highway by a group of black teens who admitted
afterward that they deliberately ran over him?
Would the two passengers not have been charged as accessories and would
the driver not have been charged with a race motivated murder?
This if has to be asked because Butts
and Anderson were viciously murdered in Mississippi. The state has a long and
shameful history of premeditated racial violence against African-Americans.
During most of the state's sordid past, sheriffs, district attorneys, and state
officials not only turned a blind eye to the violence
against blacks but more often
than not egged it on, and in some cases even were directly complicit in
committing murderous acts against blacks. Then there's the overt and subtle
climate of polarization and hate that's ever present there. Confederate flags
fly on white homes in eye sight of the spot where Butts was run down.
Both Champion and the county sheriff
seemed taken aback by any inference that the murder of Butts had anything to do
with race. They hotly told inquirers that they searched hard to determine the
motive in the killing and could find none, and that included a racial motive.
Mississippi is also very much a death
penalty state. And it has had absolutely no reservation in years past of
slapping the death penalty on blacks that commit or are simply accused of
committing a crime or violence against whites. Countless studies have shown
that when blacks commit crimes against whites, they are far more likely to be
convicted, serve longer sentences, and if the charge is murder, more likely
than whites to get the death penalty.
It's almost certain that Darby's
defense will twist and turn the evidence to present him as an immature, inebriated,
irresponsible teen that in a moment of juvenile passion simply let his emotions
run away with him. In other words, Butt's death was tragic, but this is hardly
grounds to throw the legal book at him. Given the well-established propensity
of all-or mostly white juries to give white defendants that commit acts of
violence against blacks the full benefit of the legal doubt, there's no
guarantee that Darby won't skip away without being convicted of first degree
murder. There's also the possibility that he'll cut a deal and plead to lesser
Butt's family has been outspoken that
he was murdered because he was black. They have demanded that the prosecutor
push harder to establish that fact and charge the teens with a hate crime. So
far their plea has fallen on deaf ears. And given Mississippi's history of
monumental indifference and insensitivity to racially motivated murders
failings, if the prosecution has its way, it may stay that way.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and
political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American
Urban Radio Network. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host
of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com
podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com
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