Posted on October 10, 2005

Tifton Arrests Reflect Chasm

Bill Torpy, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Oct. 6

TIFTON — The bludgeoning and shooting deaths of six Hispanics were, officials said, “some of the most vicious the state of Georgia has witnessed.”

In announcing the arrests of three people from his county Wednesday, Colquitt County Sheriff Al Whittington made an oft-uttered, almost clichéd statement: “We’re not accustomed to things like this taking place in our community; it happens somewhere else.” He then added, “Regretfully, times have changed.”

Whittington was referring to the savagery of four early-morning home invasions Friday, in which attackers burst into trailers and started beating Hispanics with an aluminum bat as they slept.

Stacy Bernard Sims, 19; Jamie Deamtrive Underwood, 27; and Jennifer Wilson, 26, all of Moultrie, on Wednesday were charged with six counts of murder each. The two men were arrested Sunday, and Wilson was arrested Tuesday night.

Times have changed, as the sheriff noted.

Hispanics are arriving in South Georgia just as agricultural and factory jobs are disappearing. The influx has caused a new wrinkle in the always difficult issue of race relations in the South.

Savanah Marin, a Hispanic woman born in the United States who lives in Tifton, said Hispanics have been targeted with both violence and accusations.

“We hear that we are invading their country; there’s a lot of prejudice in South Georgia,” she said.

Much of it, she said, comes from those who themselves have been victims: African-Americans.

“The Mexicans get bullied by blacks a lot — at work, at school,” said Marin, as her mother, Diane Rodriguez, nodded in agreement. “Hispanics are afraid of the blacks. The bad crimes are blamed on blacks.”

The suspects in the four home invasions are all black, as are the suspects in dozens more in the past years.

Courtney Gear, 29, is black and lives in the same Tifton mobile home park where three men were killed. He sometimes hears resentment of Hispanics.

“Some people are like, ‘They are taking these jobs,’ that this is bad,” said Gear, who is unemployed. “But they don’t take a job from me.”