Brandon McClelland was a 24-year-old maintenance worker, a Black man, from the small town of Paris, Texas. On September 16, 2008, his mutilated body was found on a bloodstained rural road, having been dragged as much as 40 feet beneath a pickup truck. According to court papers, on the night of his death, McClelland went with two White men across state lines to buy beer since Paris is considered a "dry" town. The trio fought over whether or not any of them was sober enough to drive home. McClelland chose to walk and on his way back, he was allegedly run down and dragged by their vehicle. In December a grand jury indicted Shannon Finley and Charles Ryan Crostley, both 27, on murder charges. If convicted they could spend the rest of their lives in prison.
But the grisly case has raised tensions in the community. While police investigators are portraying the incident as an apparent dispute between friends, McClelland's family and local Black activists see the attack as a vicious hate crime in a town plagued by racial problems. Race relations in Paris, Texas, were in the news last year, after Shaquanda Cotton, a then 14-year-old African-American girl, was sentenced to up to seven years in prison for shoving a teacher's aide at school. And McClelland's attack has striking similarities to the dragging death of James Bryd, which happened in nearby Jasper, Texas, ten years ago.
ESSENCE.com spoke to McClelland's mother, Jacqueline, about her son's curious case, and why she thinks the police have the story all wrong.
ESSENCE.COM: When did you find out what happened to Brandon?
JACQUELINE McCLELLAND: Mr. Leon Williams, the man who owns the funeral home, called my stepfather on the phone and told him that they had found my son dead out there on the highway. I was in a state of shock. I couldn't believe it. Brandon was my only child.
ESSENCE.COM: Two men have been indicted, but the case was not prosecuted as a hate crime. Why do you think it should have been?
McCLELLAND: The police don't want to look at it as being a hate crime, but I feel that it was. Look at the way that they did it-they took him way out there in the country, where he didn't know anybody. And Paris has always been a racist town; they've always treated Blacks different here.
ESSENCE.COM: Why is it so important to you that a hate crime is added to the charges?
McCLELLAND: It needs to be. What I worry about the most is, if they get out of prison, who knows whose child they're liable to do next.
ESSENCE.COM: Officials have said that it wasn't race-related because the men involved were Brandon's friends.
McCLELLAND: He was an associate of theirs. I'm not going to say friends. But still-friends don't kill friends. You don't take your friends out to the country, run them over and drag them to death. How is that a friend? The police are downplaying race. They don't want to draw attention to it.
ESSENCE.COM: How has the community in Paris, Texas, responded to how your son's death is being investigated?
McCLELLAND: The response has been mixed. Some people say there is a lot of racism going on in this town, and some say there's not. The New Black Panthers came and sponsored a rally to make sure that justice was going to get served, and I've gotten a lot of support from other organizations. I feel that it's brought some attention to what's going on, but as far as the community, a lot of people are just kind of hush-hush about it.
ESSENCE.COM: What's been helping you get through all this?
McCLELLAND: You know, I have [local activist] Brenda Cherry, who is a big help, and I've had a lot of support from my family. I've been up and down, just praying and asking God to give me the strength to make it through this. I'm hoping that everything will go all right, and that we get justice.