Outings to “Jafrica” took place over the summer in 2011. The Mississippi teenagers from predominantly white Rankin County piled into cars and drove into predominantly African American Jackson. These trips were named for a portmanteau of “Jackson” and “Africa,” a nod to their specific and malicious mission: to terrorize strangers for no other reason than that they were black.
Sometimes they carried weapons; other times they operated solely with their fists. The young people targeted those who were homeless or drunk, because they would be easier to prey on and less likely to report an assault.
As U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves would later put it, these were the “unknown victims like the John Doe at the golf course who begged for his life.” These individuals were countless.
Just one of the innocents would not remain unknown, however, thanks to surveillance footage from a parking lot captured on the night of June 26, 2011.
James Craig Anderson was killed during a “Jafrica” outing that day, a hate crime that led to arrests and sentences for 10 young people involved, all of whom pleaded guilty.
On Monday, four of the most prominent co-conspirators — Deryl Dedmon, 23, John Rice, 23, Dylan Butler, 24 and William Montgomery, 26 — wereordered by a federal judge in Mississippi to pay $840,000 in restitution to Anderson’s estate. The restitution case was prosecuted by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.
The four men, all of whom are white, were previously found guilty of committing a racially motivated act that resulted in Anderson’s death, and they are each serving between seven and 50 years in prison.
“When these defendants committed this brutal hate crime, they not only took a man’s life, they also hurt a family,” Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.
The likelihood of the men being able to pay remains unclear. While they share the liability, the Associated Press reported, each may have to pay the full amount if others do not contribute.
The amount, decided by an estimate of Anderson’s lost future wages, is the latest attempt to wring justice out of a crime that recalled Mississippi’s darkest years.
Like the other “Jafrica” targets, it could be said that Anderson, a 49-year-old auto factory worker, was at the wrong place at the wrong time. But it was more than that: as the facts of the case unspooled in gruesome detail and grainy reel, the circumstances of Anderson’s death seemed to rise from a different era altogether.
That era was the Mississippi of the late 19th to mid-20th centuries — the Mississippi of Jim Crow and mass lynchings, the time that Anderson’s 89-year-old mother lived through, only to have her son killed by its specter.
On the night of June 26, 2011, two carloads of white teenagers pulled into a motel parking lot where they spotted Anderson, CNN reported. “Let’s go f— with some n——s,” Dedmon said. Some members of the group jumped out and started beating Anderson, pummeling him to the ground.
Between hits, they screamed, “White power!” They took Anderson’s cellphone, wallet and a ring.
As they finally seemed to leave him and he struggled to stand, the then-18-year-old Dedmon surged toward him in a Ford 250 truck and ran him over, continuing to speed away as Anderson laid lifeless.
“I ran that n—– over,” Dedmon laughed to his friends shortly afterward.
The significance of these details were not lost on Reeves when he brought down his sentence against Dedmon, Butler and Rice last February. The sentence was preceded by a powerful summation of Mississippi’s fraught racial history, of how the young men’s acts fit into that past all too well.
“New generations have attempted to pull Mississippi from the abyss of moral depravity in which it once so proudly floundered in,” Reeves, the second African American appointed as federal judge in the state, said in lengthy speech to the defendants before the sentencing. (The speech can be read in full on NPR’s Code Switch.)
Despite much progress and the efforts of the new generations, these three defendants are before me today/ … They and their co-conspirators ripped off the scab of the healing scars of Mississippi … causing her (our Mississippi) to bleed again. … A toxic mix of alcohol, foolishness and unadulterated hatred caused these young people to resurrect the nightmarish specter of lynchings and lynch mobs from the Mississippi we long to forget. … This was the 2011 version of the n—– hunts.