Wednesday, March 6, 2013

U.S. Congressman Thompson And National Black Justice Coalition Demand Federal Government Investigate Murder Of Openly Gay Black Mississippi Mayoral Candidate As Hate Crime

An update on a previous post: United States Representative Bennie Thompson on Tuesday joined the National Black Justice Coalition in demanding the federal government investigate the slaying of openly gay, black Clarksdale mayoral candidate Marco McMillian as a hate crime. “I have spoken to Sheriff (Charles) Jones and have confidence in the work that he and his deputies have put forth thus far,” Mississippi’s 2nd District congressman said in a statement issued late Tuesday, referring to the Coahoma County Sheriff’s Department. “However, at the request of the family,” Thompson said, “I have asked that the FBI review the circumstances and evidence of this case to determine whether a violation of federal law has occurred and provide any necessary assistance to local and state law enforcement officials.” Thompson’s request came just hours after the National Black Justice Coalition filed a formal request to the U.S. Department of Justice seeking the same treatment. “NBJC is standing firmly with Marco McMillian’s family so that their concerns do not fall on deaf ears,” coalition Executive Director and CEO Sharon Lettman-Hicks wrote in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The coalition describes itself as the leading civil rights organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of African-American descent, according to the Clarion-Ledger. “The details of this case just aren’t adding up,” Lettman-Hicks said. “Whether on the basis of race or sexual orientation, hate is hate. If there is the possibility that McMillian was murdered because of whom he is that warrants the Department of Justice’s involvement.” Mississippi’s hate-crime law covers race, religion and gender but not sexual orientation. Local and state agencies can seek assistance to pursue a federal hate crime, which does cover homosexuality, but they haven’t done so in this case. Sheriff’s Department spokesman Will Rooker said the agency isn’t investigating the murder as a hate crime. The FBI didn’t immediately return a call for comment. McMillian, 33, was beaten, dragged and set afire before his body was found February 27 near the Mississippi River, according to a statement the family issued late Sunday. He also was found naked, bruised and swollen, said Carter Womack, who is McMillian’s godfather. He said the account was based on photographs the family saw, as well as two conversations it had with the coroner. But Coroner Scotty Meredith said McMillian wasn’t dragged behind a vehicle; his body was dragged to where it was dumped. McMillian was one of the first viable openly gay candidates to run for office in Mississippi, according to the Victory Fund, which supports homosexual candidates. Coahoma County Sheriff’s Department charged 22-year-old Lawrence Reed of Clarksdale with the murder. Although authorities have provided no public information about a possible motive, it reportedly appeared to have stemmed from an unwanted sexual advance that McMillian made toward Reed. McMillian had moved back to his hometown of Clarksdale several months ago to enter the mayoral race as a Democrat. He had wanted to reduce crime and boost employment opportunities and faced four other candidates. “Marco was a phenomenal person,” Womack said. “He gave unconditionally. He was committed and focused. He got stuff done. He didn’t hold back.” Prior to his return, he had served as international executive director of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, executive assistant and chief of staff to the president of Alabama A&M University and assistant to the vice president for institutional advancement at Jackson State University. He most recently headed his own consulting business in Memphis.

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