A white Mississippi man pleaded guilty to a hate crime in federal court on Friday for burning a cross in his front yard to intimidate a Black Family.
According to the Justice Department, Axel C. Cox, 24, of Gulfport, admitted to violating the Fair Housing Act when he used threatening and racially derogatory remarks toward his Black neighbors and burned a cross to intimidate them.
“The collaboration among the Gulfport Police Department, the FBI, the Civil Rights Division and our office brought this defendant to justice,” said U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca for the Southern District of Mississippi. “We will continue to work with and for the good people of Mississippi to eradicate such racist intimidation.”
Court documents reveal that Cox gathered supplies from his residence, put together a wooden cross in his front yard, and propped it up so his Black neighbors could see it. Cox then doused the cross with motor oil and lit it on fire. He later admitted that he burned the cross because of the victims’ race and because they were occupying a home next to his.
“Burning a cross invokes the long and painful history, particularly in Mississippi, of intimidation and impending physical violence against Black people,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to prosecute those who use racially-motivated violence to drive people away from their homes or communities.”
Federal prosecutors told NPR that when Cox burned the cross to threaten and intimidate his Black neighbors, he violated the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which prohibits discrimination against a person’s housing rights based on the individual’s race, religion, national origin, sex, or family status.
Axel Cox is scheduled to be sentenced on March 9, 2023. He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 or both.
“Individuals in our communities should be free from threats and intimidation,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to bring to justice anyone who violates the federal laws designed to ensure civil rights are protected.”
According to an FBI report, more than 7,700 criminal hate crime incidents were reported in 2020, an increase of about 450 incidents over 2019.
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