White Mississippi cops who terrorized Black community are sentenced to prison

After pressure from families, the Black community and supporters, for the first time in Mississippi history six cops have been held accountable for torturing two Black men.

Aug. 14, 2023. Michael Jenkins (above) is in court when ex-cop Christian Dedman pleads guilty. PHOTO: Vickie D. King / Mississippi Today
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Until this year, Mississippi police have always gotten away with terrorizing the Black community. Even during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, the cops got away with their abuse. So it was a welcome change when, earlier this year, six members of law enforcement pleaded guilty to a litany of charges and were sentenced to 17 to 40 years behind bars.

It started on Jan. 24, 2023, when a so-called concerned citizen called Deputy Brett McAlpin and complained that two Black men were staying at a white woman’s house in Braxton, Mississippi. McAlpin pulled the self-named “Goon Squad” together to rough-up Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker and send them packing.

For several hours, the six — former Rankin County Sheriff’s Deputies McAlpin, Howard Elward, Christian Dedmon, Jeffrey Middleton, Daniel Opdyke and former Richland police officer Joshua Hartfield — brutalized Jenkins and Parker.

The officers beat and sexually assaulted the two men. The cops repeatedly used stun guns on them. Deputy Elward forced Jenkins to his knees, put a gun in his mouth and fired, cutting Jenkins’ tongue and breaking his jaw, the shot exiting through his neck.

Knowing there would be public scrutiny, the cops staged a cover-up. They planted evidence, made false statements, and threatened the homeowner. Michael Corey Jenkins was initially charged with felony possession of drugs. But Jenkins and Eddy Terrell Parker were undeterred. They went public with their story. Community outrage grew. The press magnified the story, which led to the involvement of the federal government.

In the end the six racists pleaded guilty to federal and state charges including conspiracy against rights, obstruction of justice, deprivation of rights under color of law, and discharge of a firearm under a crime of violence. The federal charges came down first, followed by the state. The pressure brought to bear by federal scrutiny surely helped move things along, but it was the victims and the community who were the real heroes. The charges and sentences would never have happened without the bravery of Parker and Jenkins and the supportive community response.

Police in the U.S. have always been there to enforce the racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic status quo. They started as slave patrols looking for runaways. After the Civil War, they enforced Jim Crow segregation. They have been used, time and again, to break strikes. In this era, police impunity had been the rule in Mississippi. That was until this year, when these six racists with badges were finally held accountable.

What is needed now to keep the police accountable is real community power over them. An independent, elected, civilian review board with the power to subpoena and investigate, with a prosecutor who can fire and jail cops who terrorize the neighborhoods they are supposed to protect. (See “New York City Democrats block cop accountability bill.”)

Intense public scrutiny of law enforcement is exactly what is needed in Mississippi and beyond.

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