An African-American man who’s been missing for nearly two weeks was found hanging from a tree Thursday, in Claiborne, Mississippi.
Claiborne County’s sheriff’s department and the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks found Otis Byrd, a 54-year-old identified by the NAACP, hanging from a bed sheet half a mile from his home. Authorities found signs of decomposition, and concluded that Byrd was there for more than 24 hours.
After the the body was found, the president of the state’s NAACP said, “Considering Mr. Byrd’s body was found hanging from a tree, we are calling on federal authorities to immediately investigate to determine whether his death is a result of a racial hate crime.”
The local sheriff’s department is examining the cause of Byrd’s death, to determine if it was a homicide or suicide. The FBI and Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are also searching for civil rights violations that may have played a role.
Although details surrounding the incident are still murky, Mississippi is widely recognized for deeply entrenched racism. Last year, for instance, Rep. Gene Alday (R) said blacks are lazy and reliant on welfare checks. He also accused them of taking up medical attention for gunshot wounds, when he took a trip to the emergency room. At a flea market, a state judge slapped a 20-year-old, mentally-ill, black man and told him ‘Run, n***** run.’ Segregation in schools is also a prominent issue, with one middle school preventing black students from running for student body president in 2010.
Last month, a federal judge sentenced three young Mississippi men who lynched a black man they found in a parking lot by beating him and driving a pickup truck over him. During the beating, some of the white teens reported yelled out the words “white power.”