James C. Anderson was attacked in Rankin County, Mississippi by a group of white teens who were hunting for a black person to harm. He was the first one they saw on the night of June 26, 2011. They beat him and then one of them, Deryl Dedmon, deliberately ran him over with his truck, killing him.
Barbara Anderson Young, James’ sister, wrote a letter to the authorities stating:
“We ask that you not seek the death penalty for anyone involved in James’ murder…
Our opposition to the death penalty is deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James’ life as well…
We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites. Executing James’ killers will not help to balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment.
Those responsible for James’ death not only ended the life of a talented and wonderful man. They also caused our family unspeakable pain and grief. But our loss will not be lessened by the state taking the life of another.”
This reminds me of two other incidents: the bloodlust of the victim’s families in the case of the West Memphis Three and in the Troy Davis/Mark McPhail case, inspite of incredibly thin evidence in both situations.
Yet in an incident of racially-motivated murder similar to James Anderson’s case, I have another example of a black family wishing to spare the life of a white supremacist perpetrator: the family of victim James Byrd, killed by white supremacist Lawrence Russell Brewer.
These families are amazing examples. Valuing human life above everything, even the possibility of avenging the death of a loved one, is an amazing feat of grace. I applaud the families of James Anderson and James Byrd for their unusual displays of compassion.