Moral Low Ground

US Government

Mississippi Judge Bill Weisenberger Accused of Slapping Disabled Black Man, Yelling “Run, Nigger, Run”

(WAPT screen grab)

(WAPT screen grab)

A white Mississippi judge stands accused of striking a mentally disabled black man at a flea market, yelling “run, nigger run” during the assault.

The alleged incident occurred May 8 at the Canton flea market in Canton, 26 miles (42 km) north of Jackson. Eric Rivers, a 20-year-old mentally disabled black man, was present as market vendors unloaded their wares. He was apparently looking to earn money by helping them unload.

Market vendor Cathy Hendrix told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger that local residents commonly load and unload vehicles there.

“That young man was wanting to work to earn money to buy a bike,” Hendrix told the paper.

For reasons that are not currently clear, Rivers was confronted by Madison County Justice Court Judge Bill Weisenberger, who apparently took issue with the young man’s presence. Witness Tammy Westbrook said she saw Weisenberger “rear back and slap” Rivers twice.

Clearly terrified, Rivers ran off. As he did, Weisenberger allegedly shouted, “Run, boy, run. Run, nigger run!”

Westbrook claims she heard the judge boast about what he’d done after the incident.

Hendrix and Westbrook, who are sisters, told the Clarion-Ledger that they believed Weisenberger was a law enforcement officer because he was wearing a security guard uniform. The judge is a former officer and emergency operations director in Madison County. WLBT reports he was working as a private security guard at the flea market.

Hendrix said Weisenberger appeared to be “suffering from an authoritative complex and was making sure that everyone knew it.” She said that the judge also harassed a female vendor at the market, and that when the woman asked him to “change his tone,” he replied that he would only speak with her husband because he did not “take orders from a woman.”

Local NAACP president William Truly, who is a former mayor of the town of 13,000, called on Weisenberger to resign.

“This is 2014, not 1960, where someone could slap a young man and yell out ‘run, nigger, run,'” Truly told the Clarion-Ledger. “No citizen should have a face justice before a judge who holds such a high degree of racial animus and hatred.”

In Mississippi, justice court judges, who are elected, do not need law degrees or even college degrees. The only requirement under state law is that they graduate from high school. After taking office, they undergo up to six hours of training per year. A state task force recommended in 2007 that justice court judges should be required to obtain a two-year associate degree in order to serve.

WLBT reports the Madison County District Attorney’s office says Weisenberger will be tried before a grand jury, although according to the Jackson Free Pressno charges have yet been filed in the case.

“I hope that good and decent people will speak up and speak out because this is not who we are here in our state,” Truly told the Free Press. “I think we’ve made a lot of changes, and there are a lot of us, black and white, who condemn this type of action. This simply has to stop.”

Mississippi is notorious for its abysmal civil rights record. Racist hate crimes, including violent assaults, still occur with alarming regularity. An ongoing legacy of racism still plagues the state. According to a 2011 Public Policy Polling survey of Mississippi Republicans, nearly half (46 percent) said interracial marriage should be illegal. More than half of likely Mississippi Republican primary voters believed Obama was a Muslim in 2012, according to another Public Policy Polling survey.

There are still reports of predominantly white churches banning blacks from marrying, and the state has also been accused of extreme, racialized discipline in its public schools, and of running a “school-to-prison pipeline” that perpetuates the epidemic of mass incarceration of black youth.

Shockingly, Mississippi officially ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, the 1865 constitutional provision abolishing slavery, last year. Many Mississippians remain proud of their state’s racist heritage. State leaders, including the last governor, have openly praised racist groups.

It’s not just blacks who suffer from shocking discrimination in Mississippi, the most deeply religious (Christian) of all the states. State law requires public schools to teach that gay sex is an “unnatural” criminal act. Indeed, under Mississippi law, same-sex intimacy is a “detestable and abominable crime against nature” punishable by up to 10 years in prison, although the US Supreme Court struck down state anti-sodomy laws over a decade ago.

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