Marco McMillian was just 34 years old when he was killed on the night of February 26. One man, Lawrence Reed, 22, has been charged in connection with his death. The death of Marco McMillian resulted in a media frenzy that largely focused only on his sexual orientation. In all the attention this case has received there are still a lot of unanswered questions, and some questions people are too afraid to ask.
Police found Reed in McMillian’s wrecked SUV after it was involved in a head on collision. The body of McMillian was discovered the following day by a levee located near Clarksdale in Mississippi's Delta region. The godfather of McMillian said the coroner had informed the family that the body had been dragged under a fence. Another person, who had information concerning the investigation, said the body showed signs of bruises and burns. The official results of the autopsy have not been released.
As more details of the evening are released, more questions arise. Reed was allegedly planning to take McMillian to a party. Two sisters who were contacted by Reed after the murder took place say he acted in self-defense. "He called at 12:11am and he told her that the dude (McMillian) was trying to rape him. He was exposing himself to him, playing with himself, telling him to do things and then he'll take him home." Others in the community have jumped to the defense of Reed who believe he was only trying to protect himself. What actually hapapened is still the subject of rampant speculation.
Local police have been contacted by the FBI who offered assistance and will continue to monitor the case. Mississippi’s hate crime laws do not cover hate crimes committed because of ones sexual orientation, unlike federal law. If the FBI wanted to, they could determine whether or not hate charges should be considered.
The town of Clarksdale doesn’t want to speak about McMillian’s sexual orientation, they would rather not acknowledge it at all. Instead they focus on McMillian as a church going man, a God-fearing man, as if the two are mutually exclusive. According to the pastor of a church there, McMillian returned after traveling the world on a mission from God to pull the people of Clarksdale out of poverty. He was running for Mayor despite lack of resources or name recognition but many people in the town respected him. Almost everyone agrees that McMillian was a man with a bright future.
If you read initial media reports you would only know McMillian as the gay African-American politician. He would be nothing more than a two-dimensional character to you. You would ignore the life he lead before he was murdered, the history of the town he lived in, and everything else. Your eyes would immediately jump to and focus on the man charged with killing him. The media reports, almost immediately say that Lawrence Reed is also African-American. The media stories then pivot to focus solely on McMillian’s sexual orientation. Was he openly-gay? And, just how openly-gay was he? As if there a litmus test for how gay you have to be in order for something to be considered a hate crime. The media reports the story as if his murder was almost inevitable; he was an openly gay African-American in Mississippi, in backwards, intolerant, violence prone Mississippi.
What needs to be said is this, whether or not McMillian was killed because of his sexual orientation should not prevent the state of Mississippi from investigating his death fully. Nor should it prevent the state from listing murder because of one's sexual orientation as a hate crime. Of course, that likely won’t happen. The state has already shown reluctance in prosecuting other hate crimes.
Marco McMillian was someone who believed in the future, who had faith that his town could “handle twenty-first century reality.” The towns reaction to his death, the unwillingness of the police to consider the possibility that his sexual orientation played a role in his death, all tell us otherwise. Even as polls are released telling us of the growing support for gay-marriage, this town serves as vicious reminder of the deep rooted intolerance and hatred that we must continue to fight against.