Protests erupt after
Suspects set free in dragging case
Published Jun 21, 2009 11:20 PM
“A Black man’s life is still not worth a white man’s life in
Paris, Texas,” said activist Anthony Bond. “I am 55 years old and I
know racism when I see it. Paris, Texas, is eaten up with racism.”
Bond was among 300 people who protested June 8 at the courthouse in Paris after
the special prosecutor suddenly dropped murder charges against two white men
accused of murdering a Black youth last September.
Jacqueline McClelland, mother of the dragging
victim, speaks to rally. She is
members of the New Black Panther Party,
Nation of Islam, Tarrant
Organizing Committee and the NAACP.
Photo: Bobby Hatton
The New Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam and Concerned Citizens for
Racial Equality organized the rally.
Brandon McClelland’s mangled body was found on Sept. 16, 2008, on a
country road. Authorities estimated that it had been dragged more than 70
McClelland’s family and members of the Black community who attended the
protest stressed that the dismissals were the real injustice, and another
example of racial inequality in Paris, a town with a long history of violent
Shannon Finley and Charles Crostley, the two white men who had been arrested
for McClelland’s murder, walked out of jail on June 4 with no
At the courthouse rally, where a monument to the Confederacy dominates the
lawn, McClelland’s mother and father spoke to the crowd through tears.
Jackie McClelland said the dropped charges show that the justice system treats
Blacks and whites in Paris unequally.
“I said from the start they were going to sweep this under the
rug,” she said. “And nine months later, that’s exactly what
happened. This was a hate crime. We couldn’t even have an open casket for
“What if it was your son? Would you fight for your kid?” said Bobby
McCleary, McClelland’s father. “I miss that one word my son used to
say: Pops. He didn’t call me Dad. He called me Pops.”
Rock Banks, who said he was a “grand titan” in the East Texas Ku
Klux Klan, angered the crowd during the rally. He held up a small patch
displaying a Nazi-era Iron Cross. After a near confrontation, he was forced to
Activists vowed to get the Department of Justice to take an interest in the
case. They have begun writing letters to the White House and Attorney General
Eric Holder. “It’s going to be a huge campaign to get the attorney
general involved,” said Deric Muhammad of the Nation of Islam in Houston.
“They released two killers on a maybe. They released two killers on a
might be. They released two killers on an if.”
The district attorney released Finley and Crostley after defense attorneys
suddenly produced a truck driver who said he may have accidentally hit
McClelland. The district attorney had given the truck driver immunity for his
Protesters carried signs saying, “We Want Justice,” and
“Where is the Justice for Brandon?” Using a bullhorn, organizers
led chants of “Black Power,” and “No Justice, No
A national rally to protest the dragging death of McClelland is planned for
July 21, the day that the murder trial had been scheduled to begin.
Paris also made national news in 2007 when an African-American student,
Shaquanda Cotton, was sentenced to seven years in a Texas Youth Commission jail
for pushing a teacher’s aide. Months earlier, the same judge had given a
white teen probation for burning her family’s house down.
Cotton was finally freed after a national campaign on her behalf.
Paris is located in East Texas, known for its long history of racism and Ku
Klux Klan activities. In 1998 another Black man, James Byrd Jr., was dragged to
death in Jasper, 200 miles south of Paris.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Paris was the site of one of the
country’s most notorious “spectacle” lynchings in 1893, when
10,000 people gathered to watch the torture and burning of Henry Smith, a Black
man who was accused of killing the 3-year-old daughter of a white
Smith had fled to a small town near Hope, Ark., but was caught and brought back
to Paris by train. Word traveled that he had been brought back and spectators
came from miles around, using “special excursion trains” to travel
Smith was placed on top of a wagon and paraded around the town square, then
taken to a prairie south of the Texas & Pacific railroad depot, where
scaffolding had been built for the occasion.
Ida B. Wells cited this case in “The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and
Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States,” printed in 1895, which
documented her research on and campaign against lynching.
Three decades later, in 1920, a Paris mob killed brothers Herman and Irving
Arthur, Black sharecroppers, who were accused of killing their white
The brothers, who claimed self-defense, were taken from the Lamar County Jail
to the fairgrounds where, according to the Dallas Morning News, they were
chained to a flagpole and burned. The mob then dragged their bodies through the
Black neighborhood of Paris.
New Black Panther Party organizer Sister Krystal Muhammad told Workers World
the group is getting endorsers and organizing around the state for the
demonstration on July 21. “We will not stop organizing until there is
justice for Brandon. Racist murderers cannot be allowed to kill with
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