Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Suicide or homicide?

Following up on Sunday's post about the strange hanging death of a Washington state black man named Roy Veal in Mississippi, the New Orleans Times-Picayune has put together a far more complete account that obviously contradicts much of the information in the earlier AP account:
The townfolk rely on rumor, and the sheriff awaits the return later this week of crime lab and autopsy results. But he and other officials are virtually certain of one thing: No one was lynched in Woodville.

"I don't think this is some Jim Crow deal," Jackson said. "You've got to consider it with Mississippi's history, but I deal with the crime as what it is, and this is not a hate crime."

Jackson compared a lynching to terrorism, noting the killers want to spread fear and intimidate the living. In the classic examples, the victim's hands are tied, there are signs of struggle, and the body twists high above the ground as a grotesque warning.

None of those elements were present here, the sheriff said.

Significantly enough, the new story directly disputes the detail in the earlier account that said his hands were bound and that there were signs of obvious trauma on Veal's body:
Veal's hands were free, and there were no visible signs of trauma on the body that would indicate a beating or a fight. Veal's feet were just inches from the ground -- "like he could have tiptoed on the grass," Jackson said. The sheriff and two of his deputies on the scene that morning said there were no other footprints or tire tracks around the tree. Further, the cloth over Veal's head was a pillowcase, and its match was found inside Veal's mother's house a couple hundred yards away from the towering pecan.

Finally, rarely in a lynching is there a makeshift ladder by the tree, as there was here -- a long, rusted feeding trough that was still standing upright against the trunk.

The story also notes that the lawsuit which Veal was attending to involved a dispute over timber, not oil rights.

However, it is also worth noting that at least some of the Veals' neighbors aren't quite so quick to dismiss the suspicions that something foul was afoot:
Tolliver's assessment of Wilkinson County's oil reserves doesn't square with that made by the customers at the Pine Ridge Grocery across the street from the high school.

The people gathered there said they would not be surprised to learn if race played a role in Veal's hanging, but they tied that to underhanded business dealings, not secret brotherhoods. Racism is real here, but it's not violent, they said. In other words, the parking lot gossip -- and those delivering it concede up front it's nothing but gossip -- makes the culprit an unnamed, ruthless businessmen coveting the black gold on Veal land, not racism in its old vile form.

"I've had no experience with the problem, but I know it's here. I mean, c'mon, it's everywhere," said Delores Carter, an African-American customer who agreed to discuss the matter on the record. "But my opinion is, if I'm going to kill myself, would I put something over my head like that before I did it?"

I'd wager the autopsy will conclude that Veal committed suicide. However, one can also be certain that uneasiness over the death will not be so readily dissipated.

Many thanks to reader Plexix for forwarding the T-P story.

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