Emmett Till All Over Again: Six White Mississippi Cops Plead Guilty To Beating, Torturing Two Black Men
from the crime-of-being-black-while-existing dept
The more things change, etc. We’ll never fully reject this country’s racist history if we insist on stocking our police departments with racists. The horrific events described here do not exist in a vacuum. The officers who felt comfortable doing these things felt comfortable for several reasons.
First, there’s the long history of racist policing, which means cops who oppress minorities seldom suffer the consequences of their actions. Then there’s qualified immunity, which means cops have to veer far over constitutional lines to even be held responsible for their actions. And, in most cases, cops who do these things are indemnified, which means they’re never actually personally responsible for their actions. It’s the people they’re supposed to serve who actually foot the bill.
Then there’s cop culture in general, which teaches cops that every person who isn’t a cop is a potential threat and that everyone who isn’t a cop isn’t qualified to opine on, much less alter, standard cop behavior.
On top of this discordant, useless mess is the DOJ, which can open investigations, secure consent decrees, and expose years of unconstitutional practices. But, in the end, the targets of DOJ investigations have to want to change to actually effect any changes. Almost none of them do.
Welcome to Mississippi, 1955. Emmett Till was accused by a white woman of whistling at her and grabbing her hand while she shopped in a local store. Because of this (unverified) claim, locals took it upon themselves to do this to Emmett Till:
In the early morning hours of August 28, 1955, sometime between 2 and 3:30 a.m., Bryant and Milam drove to Mose Wright’s house. Milam was armed with a pistol and a flashlight. He asked Wright if he had three boys in the house from Chicago. Till was sharing a bed with another cousin and there were a total of eight people in the cabin. Milam asked Wright to take them to “the nigger who did the talking”. Till’s great-aunt offered the men money, but Milam refused as he rushed Emmett to put on his clothes.
They tied up Till in the back of a green pickup truck and drove toward Money, Mississippi. According to some witnesses, they took Till back to Bryant’s Groceries and recruited two black men. The men then drove to a barn in Drew. They pistol-whipped him on the way and reportedly knocked him unconscious.
Three days after his abduction and murder, Till’s swollen and disfigured body was found by two boys who were fishing in the Tallahatchie River. His head was very badly mutilated, he had been shot above the right ear, an eye was dislodged from the socket, there was evidence that he had been beaten on the back and the hips, and his body weighted by a fan blade, which was fastened around his neck with barbed wire. He was nude, but wearing a silver ring with the initials “L. T.” and “May 25, 1943” carved in it. His face was unrecognizable due to trauma and having been submerged in water.
Welcome to Mississippi, 2023. Little has changed other than the year. Till was abducted, beaten, tortured, and killed for the crime of existing in the vicinity of white women. The victims of this latest round of brutality were guilty of the same thing: existing in the vicinity of a white woman.
A white neighbor phoned Rankin County Deputy Brett McAlpin and complained that two Black men were staying with a white woman inside a Braxton home. McAlpin told Deputy Christian Dedmon, who texted a group of white deputies so willing to use excessive force they called themselves “The Goon Squad.”
“Are y’all available for a mission?” Dedmon asked. They were.
What you’re about to read is highly disturbing. The most disturbing thing about this is that US police culture led directly to the horrific violations described rather dryly by this DOJ press release:
The defendants admitted that on Jan. 24, without a warrant or any exigent circumstances, they kicked in the door and entered a home in Braxton, Rankin County, Mississippi where two Black men, M.J. and E.P., were residing. The defendants handcuffed and arrested the men without probable cause to believe they had committed any crime, called them racial slurs, and warned them to stay out of Rankin County. Further, the defendants punched and kicked the men, tased them 17 times, forced them to ingest liquids, and assaulted them with a dildo. During the incident, Dedmon fired his gun twice to intimidate the men.
At the conclusion of the incident, Elward surreptitiously removed a bullet from the chamber of his gun, forced the gun into M.J.’s mouth and pulled the trigger. The unloaded gun clicked but did not fire. Elward racked the slide, intending to dry-fire a second time. When Elward pulled the trigger, the gun discharged. The bullet lacerated M.J.’s tongue, broke his jaw and exited out of his neck.
As M.J. was bleeding on the floor, the defendants did not provide medical aid, but instead gathered outside the home to devise a false cover story and took steps to corroborate it, including: planting a gun on M.J.; destroying surveillance video, spent shell casings, and taser cartridges; submitting fraudulent drug evidence to the crime lab; filing false reports; charging M.J. with crimes he did not commit; making false statements to investigators; and pressuring witnesses to stick to the cover story. Three of the defendants admitted in court that they were members of “The Goon Squad,” a group of RCSO officers who were known for using excessive force and not reporting it.
This describes the actions of five former officers of the Rankin County, Mississippi Sheriff’s Office. These are the names of the culprits: Chief Investigator Brett McAlpin, Narcotics Investigator Christian Dedmon, Lt. Jeffrey Middleton, Deputy Hunter Elward, and Deputy Daniel Opdyke. All of these officers pled guilty to the charges against them.
The charging document [PDF] sheds more light on the disturbing details behind the horrific act, including the fact that these officers had formed their own (publicly acknowledged) “Goon Squad” for the sole purpose of engaging in constitutional violations.
DEDMON reached out to a shift of officers who called themselves “The Goon Squad” because of their willingness to use excessive force and not report it.
This group knew their actions were illegal. That’s why they took steps to avoid being caught by anything that might undercut their narrative following their illegal acts.
DEDMON messaged the group that they were going to the property on Conerly Road, and warned them: “There is a chance [of] cameras… let’s approach east and work eas[y].” The defendants understood “work easy” to mean knock on the door, rather than kick it down. ELWARD texted back an eyeroll emoji, and OPDYKE texted a .gif of a baby crying.
More communication about cameras ensued. So did a discussion about “no bad mugshots,” which was understood to mean any violence perpetrated on the black men should avoid their faces.
Arriving at the property, the officers avoided the visible surveillance camera at the front of the house. Two officers kicked in the carport door, while another walked around to the back door, which did not have a camera observing it. Officers enter through these doors. No one had a warrant. Once inside, the violence began.
Both black men were handcuffed. While handcuffed, they were tased multiple times. E.P. was kicked in the ribs by Opdyke. Dedmon brandished his weapon, asked about the location of drugs, and fired a round into the wall of the home where both M.J. and E.P. (the initials given to the men brutalized by these inhuman officers) were being held captive by the “Goon Squad,” apparently for their failure to immediately provide evidence that would support the ongoing brutality.
Both men were moved to the living room by the self-proclaimed “Goon Squad.” The violence continued.
The defendants, all of whom are white, called M.J. and E.P. racial slurs, including “nigger,” “monkey,” and “boy;” accused them of taking advantage of the white woman who owned the house; and warned them to stay out of Rankin County and go back to Jackson or to “their side” of the Pearl River — areas with higher concentrations of Black residents.
It gets so much worse.
During a search of the house, OPDYKE kicked in the padlocked door to the front bedroom. Inside, he found a white-flesh-toned dildo and a BB gun. OPDYKE mounted the dildo on the end of the BB gun and brought the dildo to the living room, where M.J. and E.P. were handcuffed and seated on the couch. OPDYKE forced the dildo into the mouth of E.P., and attempted to force the dildo into the mouth of M.J.
DEDMON forced M.J. and E.P. onto their knees with their backs to DEDMON, and DEDMON threatened to anally rape M.J. and E.P. with the dildo. DEDMON grabbed the back of M.J.’s pants and moved the dildo toward M.J.’s backside, but DEDMON stopped when he noticed that M.J. had defecated himself.
Inhumanity, personified by a handful of “law enforcement officers,” a phrase I’m forced to put in quotes because nothing that happened here indicated they’re actually in the law enforcement business, much less deserving of this title.
M.J. and E.P., still handcuffed, were forced onto their backs on the floor of the living room. ELWARD held them down, and DEDMON poured milk, alcohol, and chocolate syrup on their faces and into their mouths, forcing M.J. and E.P. to involuntarily ingest [these fluids]; and DEDMON poured cooking grease on E.P.’s head.
After this assault, which included Elward throwing eggs at both Black men, they were ordered to shower to rid themselves of evidence of this abuse before being taken to jail.
But the abuse didn’t end there. Opdyke struck E.P. with a wooden spoon. Middleton hit E.P with a metal sword. Dedmon and McAlpin struck E.P. in the back with pieces of wood.
Sadism at every turn.
Pointing out that M.J. and E.P. had been tased by both RCSO-issued tasers and an RPD-issued taser, the defendants decided to test their tasers on M.J. and E.P. to see which one was more powerful.
At this point, DEDMON, MIDDLETON, HARTFIELD, and ELWARD tased M.J. and E.P. repeatedly: ELWARD’s taser was discharged 8 times, HARTFIELD’s taser was discharged 5 times, and DEDMON’s taser was discharged 4 times.
Two of the officers wandered off to steal stuff from the house, only to be interrupted by the sound of gunfire. This wasn’t the two men assaulting officers or escaping. This was only further torture perpetrated by armed officers of the law.
ELWARD surreptitiously removed a bullet from the chamber of his gun.
ELWARD forced M.J. onto his knees, stuck the gun in M.J.’s mouth, and pulled the trigger. The unloaded gun clicked but did not discharge.
ELWARD racked the slide, intending to dry-fire a second time. When ELWARD put the gun back into M.J’s mouth and pulled the trigger, the gun discharged. The bullet lacerated M.J.’s tongue, broke his jaw and exited out of his neck.
So much for “no bad mugshots.” While M.J. continued to bleed from this wound, the officers gathered on the porch and concocted a cover story. The officers agreed to say they had spotted M.J. outside the house, patted him down, and discovered baggies of meth. Then M.J. had run into the house, forcing the officers to pursue him.
Once inside the house, officers asked M.J. to perform a controlled drug buy over the phone. When M.J.’s handcuffs were removed to perform the call to purchase drugs, he had reached for a gun, forcing Elward to shoot him in the mouth.
The dildo was removed from the BB gun. This gun was placed next to M.J., who still wasn’t receiving any medical attention after being shot in the mouth by Elward. The officers then went to work on E.P., stating that he would be immediately released from jail if he was willing to corroborate the massive pile of lies the officers had concocted.
McAlpin left the scene to create GPS data that would corroborate the cover story. The clothes originally worn by the tortured men were thrown into the woods after proving to be too wet to be burned. Hartfield removed the hard drive storage for the home surveillance system and threw it into a nearby creek. Shell casings were removed from the house. Drugs in the possession of Dedmon were planted in the house. And McAlpin and Middleton threatened to kill any of the other officers who had willingly participated in this violence and torture if they suddenly had a crisis of conscience and ratted the others out.
These officers will all be going to jail. But it’s naïve to believe this means the worst of the worst has been rooted out. These are just the ones that got caught. And those who haven’t been caught likely feel just as comfortable regularly violating rights, even if they’re not quite as willing to go to these extremes. Cops have always protected cops, providing their tacit approval of constitutional violations. Every so often, though, officers go too far and end up paying the price. But the root problem still exists: a toxic combination of insularity and opacity that inevitably leads to horrific rights abuses even the worst of worst can’t openly condone.