It’s the Same Old South?

Déjà vu all over again. The ink is barely dry on the conviction papers of the three men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery when two more white men repeat almost exactly the same behavior in Mississippi. White father and son charged for chasing and shooting at Black FedEx driver https://cnn.it/3BeEKO6 The only saving grace here is that the Fed Ex delivery man was not physically injured. Both he and the people in the neighborhood who were at risk of being hit by errant bullets escaped with their lives. Also, the other drivers on the interstate highway where the two white men chased their intended victim.

I acknowledge that I don’t know why Federal Express would have a rented but unmarked van in service for delivery of packages, but it doesn’t matter in the end. According to the reporting, the delivery man, D’Monterrio Gibson, was wearing a FedEx jacket, shirt and pants.

But let’s suppose he was somehow behaving in a “suspicious manner” which is one of those eye-of-the-beholder things. One man’s suspicious behavior is another’s harmless curiosity. But let’s suppose that in the process of delivering packages, Mr. Gibson was lingering a bit at some homes. Maybe his attention was caught by something or other. Let’s further suppose that Mr. Gibson’s “suspicious manner” was observed by the father-son team who shot at him and chased him.

The assailants had one and only one course of action: call the police. If it appeared that the “suspicious” delivery man was about to depart the neighborhood, the only course of action was to record the license plate, take photos is possible and await arrival of the police. In the most extreme circumstance such as an observed kidnapping, which does not appear to be true here, they might be justified in following at a safe distance and staying in touch with 911 dispatch to help the police catch up.

Given the reported circumstances, there was no basis for the assailants to chase and shoot at Mr. Gibson. And, while we’re on this, do Gregory and Brandon Case normally sit around during the day with guns at the ready?

The resemblance of this situation to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery is so obvious I am loathe to point it out.

There are other similarities too.

I wrote about some of the disturbing early developments in the handling of the Arbery case arrests and prosecutions. https://bit.ly/3HRlEAs  According to initial reports, many of the same procedures are occurring here: delays in arrests, failure to charge the most obvious and serious crimes. That said, it is entirely possible yet that the Case boys will see their charges upgraded to at least attempted murder.

It seems to me that two forces, at least, are at work here. One, certainly, is the apparent belief among some white men in the South that they are entitled to use deadly force against anyone they deem “suspicious,” serving, in effect, as self-appointed police making what are euphemistically called “citizens arrests.” The second force, all too obvious, is that white men in these places, mostly though not entirely in the South, are all too ready to take matters into their own hands, use violence against unarmed Black men on the thinnest of pretexts. On the face of it, noting here that it is early days in this case, there is little to distinguish this from lynching in old style.

According to the reports, the charges against the Case men were (1) Brandon Case: “feloniously attempting to cause bodily injury with a firearm and a deadly weapon by shooting at an occupied vehicle with Gibson inside.” Presumably a reference to Mississippi Code Title 97. Crimes § 97-3-7:

(2)(a) A person is guilty of aggravated assault if he (i) attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another, or causes such injury purposely, knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life;  (ii) attempts to cause or purposely or knowingly causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon or other means likely to produce death or serious bodily harm.  [emphasis added]

Conviction under that section is “imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one (1) year or in the Penitentiary for not more than twenty (20) years.” That curious wording appears to give the sentencing judge massive discretion on where to send a convicted felon and for how long.

The father, Gregory Case, is charged with “unlawfully and feloniously conspiring with Brandon Case to commit aggravated assault by attempting to cause bodily injury.” Under the law, conspiracy can be proved by conduct and does not require proof of an overt or explicit agreement.

The assertion of “aggravation” in relation to the assault is important here because, while “simple assault” in Mississippi is defined this way,

(1)(a) A person is guilty of simple assault if he (i) attempts to cause or purposely, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another;  (ii) negligently causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon or other means likely to produce death or serious bodily harm;  or (iii) attempts by physical menace to put another in fear of imminent serious bodily harm

It is punishable only by a fine ($500.00) or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six (6) months, or both.

The charges seem correct as far as they go. Time will tell on that. It is concerning, however, thatBrandon Case’s bond was $150,000 and Gregory’s Case’s bond was $75,000. Those seem very light considering that a deadly weapon was involved and that Gibson and people in surrounding homes and vehicles were put at risk by the Cases’ actions (still alleged, of course, and innocent until proven guilty). Also disturbing is Mr. Gibson’s assertion that when he visited the police station the morning after the incident, the police there did not take his claim seriously and, among other things, implied that the incident might have been caused by his own behavior.

I repeat that nothing about this story, so far, indicates or suggests that Mr. Gibson did anything that would warrant his being chased and shot at. It is hard to imagine what circumstances that could have been.

Adding to concerns about the handling of the case is the fact that the perpetrators weren’t arrested for eight days and then only after they came to the station for an interview. The Police Chief said, “investigations take time” and no doubt they do. The Gibson case was likely not the only serious problem the Brookhaven police had on the blotter for the day. However, it involved gunfire and that should have led, one would think, to bringing the suspects in immediately.

Finally, it’s more than a little disturbing that, the day after the attack, FedEx assigned Mr. Gibson the same route. Using the usual cliches that companies almost always use in such circumstances, FedEx’s statement said it “takes situations of this nature very seriously” and that it was “shocked” by the attack. Because, you know “the safety of our team members is our top priority.” Surely someone at FedEx could come up with something more original than those canned statements. And what’s with “leave without pay” in these extraordinary circumstances? FedEx has plenty of resources with which to do better for its employees.

In any case, as noted, it’s early days. The similarities to the Arbery case are stunning and reminiscent of a South many of us had, foolishly, thought was over. The “wild west” character of these incidents is a stark reminder of how far we have yet to go in creating a civilized society that treats all people as worthy of respect until proven otherwise. We will no doubt hear a lot going forward about the legal principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” Fine, but the question remains why the Cases did not apply that principle to Mr. Gibson. Why, indeed.

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