Some of our dark past remains alive today
In 1964, a group of 20 men met in Vidalia, Louisiana to form the Silver Dollar Group, an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan. Their mandate was to conduct brutal acts of violence in Louisiana and Mississippi to terrorize and kill those supporting the civil rights movement. They killed, kidnapped, committed arson, and conducted at least two known car bombings, and the group members identified themselves by carrying a silver dollar.
This week we learned about another violent group, who similarly carry a unique coin in their pocket. One side of the coin has the group’s name, the “Goon Squad”, and the other side says “Rankin County Sheriff’s Dept.” (See photos at Jackson Jambalaya.)
Six members of this group, all law enforcement officers, have pled guilty to a laundry list of federal crimes stemming from the torture, sexual assault, and horrific acts of violence inflicted upon two African American men, Eddie Terrell Parker and Michael Corey Jenkins, in their home in Braxton, Mississippi. The acts committed by the Silver Dollar Group took place 50+ years ago, yet horrifyingly, this act took place in 2023.
I know countless Mississippians—including law enforcement officers—who work hard every day to create a state where every Mississippian, black and white, young and old, are treated with dignity and worth. Yet, this event and others like it, should cause us to acknowledge that some of our dark past remains alive today in this state I love so much.
My friend and former Empower colleague Russ Latino wrote a tremendous piece about this event with details so horrible it literally made me nauseous to read. I encourage you to read the piece in its entirety, but here’s a particularly poignant section:
What happened on January 24th…demands an answer. It demands uncomfortable reckoning. In the interim, all the scorn the media and the general public can muster is deserved.
Without a warrant, without probable cause, these officers of the law should have never been at 135 Conerly Road that night. But even if a warrant had existed, even if Jenkins and Parker had been doing something illegal, nothing in our system of justice affords officers the power to sadistically torture suspects.
Jenkins and Parker were owed due process. Their abuse at the hands of the very people entrusted to serve and protect them cannot be swept under the rug, minimized, or ignored if fundamental justice is at all a goal.
These officers dishonored their badges, their fellow officers, and their duty to the public. Their actions provide a foothold to every critic of our state, and more generally, of policing in America.
[These officers] plainly existed in a culture where they felt little fear of reprisal for their own vigilante lawlessness. The stain of their deeds will not end with their sentencing.
We should make clear that we are not what they are. That involves being unafraid to shine a light on their actions–to tear out root and branch any part of the system that would make men comfortable abusing their power this way…
Finally, a word about how tribalism can prevent accountability. Too often in modern discussions of policing, we have the tendency of retreating into our side’s “safe space.” At their extremes, one tribe blindly “backs the blue,” while another would “defund the police.” Those are childish poles for unserious people.
Well said, Russ.
For our part at Empower, we condemn this violence and abuse of authority in the strongest possible terms. This nation was founded on the idea that humans have inalienable rights from God, and government is instituted to protect those rights. So, it’s particularly egregious when officers of the law deprive citizens of due process and the dignity they deserve. It’s even more insidious when officers of the law use their badge as cover to fabricate circumstances that warrant their intervention when, as Russ stated, “they never should have been [there] that night.” No crime was committed – until the “Goon Squad” began their assault.
Law enforcement officers have a difficult job, and I’m deeply grateful for everyone who wears the badge and puts themselves in danger to keep my family safe. When a police interaction makes headlines, much debate always ensues. But in this case, there was no interaction – only an attack. The officers have pled guilty, and there is no “other side” to the story. These kinds of actions do profound harm to our justice system and must be rooted out.
The Empower justice initiative was founded to create safer communities and reduce the number of people impacted by the criminal justice system. Sadly, this most recent event is a powerful reminder of why reform that leads to accountability and protection of human dignity is so urgently necessary – for the benefit of citizens who find themselves on the wrong side of the law, and for those in law enforcement who conduct their duties in good faith.