Twenty-four-year-old Axel Cox wanted to intimidate his neighbors, a Black family, by burning a cross in his front yard. Well he messed around and found out. Cox has now been sentenced to 42 months in prison for this heinous act.
In December of 2020, the Mississippi man assembled “a wooden cross in his front yard and propped it up so his Black neighbors could see it. He then doused it with motor oil and lit it on fire.” This all happened after a dispute with the neighbors in question, and Cox said he wanted the family to see it.
Cox also stated that chose to do so because of their racial makeup, i.e., being Black, and “intended to scare them into moving out of the neighborhood.” According to records, Cox, who hails from Gulfport, MS also spoke to the same Black family using “racially derogatory language.”
Federal prosecutors stated that Cox’s actions fell under the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also referenced as the Fair Housing Act, “which prohibits discrimination against a person’s housing rights based on the individual’s race, religion, national origin, sex or family status.” Cox plead guilty to a federal hate crime, and “[i]n September 2022, a federal grand jury indicted Cox for interfering with the victims’ housing rights and using fire to commit a federal felony.”
This week U.S. Southern District of Mississippi Judge Sul Ozerden handed down the 3 ½ year prison sentence, which will also be accompanied by three years of supervised release. Cox is also ordered to pay $7,810 in restitution.
It is no accident that Cox chose to burn a cross as an act of terror towards his Black neighbors. Since the early part of the twentieth century, the imagery of a burning cross has been “one of the most potent hate symbols in the United States,” writes the Anti-Defamation League, which was widely “popularized as a terror image by the Ku Klux Klan.” This symbol has become almost indistinguishably “associated with racial intimidation.”
In a statement, Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, said “This cross burning was an abhorrent act that used a traditional symbol of hatred and violence to stoke fear and drive a Black family out of their home…While one might think cross-burnings and white supremacist threats and violence are things of the past, the unfortunate reality is that these incidents continue today. This sentence demonstrates the importance of holding people accountable for threatening the safety and security of Black people in their homes because of the color of their skin or where they are from.”
“Mr. Axel Cox sought to intimidate members of the community through his intimidating threats…The FBI prioritizes the protection of civil rights to ensure citizens remain safe without fear of any harm. We remain committed to tirelessly thwarting the nefarious actions of those, like Mr. Cox, who intended to impact fear upon citizens based on biases,” added FBI Special Agent in Charge.
Mississippi Center for Justice President Vangela M. Wade, stated “This is another stark reminder of how bigotry, racism and hate-fueled violence are alive and well in our country. Mississippi is no exception.”