Lynne P. Shackleford, Goupstate.com, August 15, 2006
Gaffney — Christopher Twamley told jurors Monday he had no idea why three teenagers he had known for years would attack him at a party after a Blacksburg High School football game last year.
The 17-year-old Blacksburg High graduate testified that he had gone to a party on Sept. 9, with the intention of hanging out with friends and “getting drunk.”
Twamley said he was there for only a few minutes when he began hearing other teenagers at the party, which was unsupervised, say Derrick Fabion Elmore, Mario Jaquea Wilson and Larevis Leontrez Dawkins planned to beat him.
Elmore, 19, Dawkins, 17, and Wilson, 18, are on trial this week on charges of second-degree lynching and aggravated assault. Because Dawkins was 16 years old when the alleged incident occurred, his assault charge will be handled in Family Court. Dawkins will face the lynching charge as an adult.
Under South Carolina law, the charge of lynching implies a group attack — which is not necessarily racially motivated. In this case, even though the three defendants are black and the victim is white, prosecutors say they don’t think the altercation was racially motivated.
During cross examination, Twamley admitted that he had been smoking marijuana before he arrived at the party, but said when Wilson and Dawkins tried to drag him outside, he sobered up quickly.
Twamley said he was sitting on a couch inside the residence when Dawkins and Wilson first attempted to drag him outside by his arms and legs to face Elmore, who was outside the home. Twamley said there was some bad blood between he and Elmore, stemming from an incident several years ago. Twamley testified that the incident wasn’t serious, and he and Elmore had been friendly since then.
Dawkins and Wilson pulled him out on the porch and someone kicked him onto the ground, Twamley testified. Elmore struck the back of Twamley’s head “at least four or five times” and he felt someone kicking him, he said. The only assailant Twamley positively identified was Elmore, although he testified he was sure Dawkins and Wilson participated in the attack.
After the altercation, Twamley was treated at the Upstate Carolina Medical Center emergency department by Dr. Mark Huntley, who testified that Twamley was sweaty and pale — a possible indication of shock. Huntley said Twamley didn’t seem intoxicated, although no toxicology tests were run. Twamley received 17 stitches for the laceration and was released.
Anyone convicted of second-degree lynching will be sentenced to between three and 20 years in prison, according to the S.C. Code of Laws. A conviction for aggravated assault carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Under an old anti-lynching statute, South Carolina prosecutors are targeting mainly young African Americans.
In a bizarre twist, South Carolina has stood America’s most disgraceful racial blot — lynching — on its head. State prosecutors are using an anti-lynching statute passed in 1951 to prosecute hundreds of mostly young blacks.
Under South Carolina law, the crime of lynching is defined solely as an act of violence by two or more persons against another, no matter the race of the victim. The statute was passed following national rage and embarrassment over the white mob murder of a black man accused of stabbing a white cab driver in 1947. It was clearly designed to protect blacks from white mob violence.
But with the plunge in racially motivated violence since the end of the civil rights era, legislators have kept the law on the books as a convenient and handy legal tool to fight crime, mob and gang violence. Prosecutors in the state claim that the law is race-neutral and does not target blacks. They say that more blacks are charged with lynching because they disproportionately commit more violent crimes than whites.
Yet a gaping racial disparity exists over who gets charged and prosecuted under the lynching law. According to an Associated Press analysis of crime statistics, blacks make up the majority of those charged with lynching, with nearly five times more blacks than whites prosecuted for it.
The racial gulf in prosecuting minors for lynching is even wider. In 2002, the number of black juveniles prosecuted for lynching was 10 times greater than the number of white youth.
. . . civil rights activists have lobbied state legislators to amend the law, and that means dropping the word “lynching” from crimes that are not explicitly racially motivated. Indeed, West Virginia, Virginia and California are the only other states that even have such a law on the books, and they are seldom if ever used.
Prosecutors freely use the law to hammer mostly young blacks, a grotesque distortion of the history of lynching. White mob violence against blacks was a deliberate tool used to maintain white supremacy, not to punish crime.
South Carolina’s racially warped lynching prosecutions run counter to the grudging efforts of some Southern officials to face up to the South’s shameful past. In the past decade, state prosecutors in Alabama and Mississippi have convicted former Klansmen for the Birmingham church bombing in 1963 and for the murders of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers and Vernon F. Dahmer. They are also considering reopening a handful of old cases in the murders of blacks and civil rights workers during the 1960s.
The prosecution of young blacks in South Carolina for the centuries-old terror practice that victimized blacks, under a law that was enacted to protect them from that racial terror, trivializes the horror of lynching. South Carolina officials should do what civil rights activists demand — amend, or better yet, dump this archaic, misused statute.