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Criminal Justice

Rasheem Carter’s Death Shows the Fault Lines of Jim Crow Still Run Through Mississippi

The case has rekindled conversations about how the U.S. justice system can, and often does, work against its own citizens.

Mamie Till-Mobley cries during the funeral for her son Emmett Till, 14, who was killed in Mississippi in 1955. For one Emory University professor, the death of Rasheem Carter last year in Mississippi has evoked memories of Till's murder and ongoing questions about justice for Black Americans. (Getty Images)

The investigation into the killing of Tiffany Carter’s son sheds light on a rigid pattern in which Black Americans find themselves at odds with the very institutions they’re supposed to trust.

While Rasheem Carter’s death wasn’t the result of officer-involved violence — and while there are many unknowns about what happened — the case has rekindled conversations about how the U.S. justice system can, and often does, work against its own citizens. 

At a news conference this week, Carter said that, in early October, her 25-year-old son called her and told her that white men in three trucks in Laurel, Mississippi, were chasing him — trying to kill him. She instructed her son to go to the police department, she recalled, “but they did not help him. He asked for help, but they did not help him.”

(Local authorities don’t suspect foul play, and they insist that the Fayette native gave them no indication that he was in danger. But the investigation is ongoing.)

Then, on Nov. 2, in a wooded area some 20 miles outside of Taylorsville, the young father’s dismembered body was found.

In the months since, his family and civil rights attorney Ben Crump have been vocal in their criticism of law enforcement. While it remains unclear whether Rasheem Carter’s death was a hate crime, Crump said on Monday that Carter’s “Mississippi lynching” could’ve been prevented had the justice system itself not been an obstacle.

This sentiment isn’t unique.

Earlier this year, after Michael Corey Jenkins was, per his attorney, handcuffed and shot in the mouth, the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office in Mississippi faced another round of accusations of brutality against Black residents. The attorney said that his organization, Black Lawyers For Justice, found that local authorities had filed “false charges to try and blame the shooting” on the 32-year-old Jenkins.

Consider, too, some of the controversy around the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black jogger gunned down after being chased by three white men in a Georgia neighborhood in 2020. His family contends that it was because of the meddling of Jacquelyn Lee Johnson, a former district attorney, that no arrests in the case were made for 74 days.

Carol Anderson, a professor of African American studies at Emory University, said that Carter’s death triggers a nauseating feeling of déjà vu.

“I think about Emmett Till and his murder, and how the issue of justice is so ephemeral for Black folks,” she explained. “I think about the difficulty of convincing authorities that Black folks have been murdered and that they deserve the respect and the diligence required to investigate. I think about the murders of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and how Chaney’s family had to hire an independent coroner to give them the real details about the horrific way he died.”

In light of a newly released autopsy report that he believes shows murder, Crump is demanding a U.S. Department of Justice probe.

“America, you cannot turn your head away,” Crump said at the news conference. “We need the highest levels of law enforcement to administer justice for Rasheem Carter, as if he were your child.”

To discuss not only the persistent tension between Black Americans and the justice system but also the lingering threat of racist violence in the South, Capital B spoke with Anderson, the author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide and One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy, among other books.

Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Capital B: On several occasions, Rasheem Carter’s family and Ben Crump have complained about a lack of transparency from law enforcement. What are your thoughts on this dynamic?

It makes me think about the ways, historically, that the killing of Black folks hasn’t resulted in consequences. And you could look all over: the ethnic cleansing in Forsyth County, Georgia, in 1912, for instance. No one went to jail for that. And Ocoee, Florida [in 1920]. Again — ethnic cleansing. Again — no consequences. I also think about how it took several decades to bring Edgar Ray Killen to justice [for the murders of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman].

The lack of consequences for the killing of Black people is baked into the system.

This is also why you get this massive push by the political right against teaching real U.S. history. Because if you don’t know about Forsyth or Ocoee or Camilla, Georgia, or Elaine, Arkansas, killings look like a one-off. But when you put everything together, you see it — you see the pattern.

People often talk about the “New South.” But for too many Black people — especially Black men — the region still doesn’t feel safe.

The fear and skepticism Black people [throughout the region] have about the justice system aren’t born out of fantasy. They’re born out of that historic pattern — that ongoing pattern.

I’ll also say that we have Mississippi’s majority-white state legislature trying to create a police force and a court system in a largely Black city where Black people would have almost no power to weigh in on that police force or that judicial system.

The tectonic plates of Jim Crow — in all its malevolence, in all its anti-Blackness — are just oozing out of the sphere.

For many, Carter’s case dredges up memories of lynchings. Could you tell me a bit more about how the history of anti-Black violence still looms large in the region?

There’s a scholar out of Clemson [the economic historian Jhacova Williams] who did a study and found that, where there were lynchings, you have in the present day diminished voter registration among Black Americans — the legacy of that violence without consequences.

To me, it’s just so tragic that Black Americans have to continue to fight for the recognition of their humanity. When you have a system that looks at someone who was afraid that he was being followed and he ends up being dismembered, and the police say that there was no foul play, that defies logic. But when you put it into an anti-Blackness frame, it’s absolutely logical.