Opinion

New York Convicted a White Supremacist as a Terrorist for the First Time, and it’s Exactly What 2019 Needs

New York State just called out white supremacy for what it is – terrorism. In 2017, then-28-year old James Harris Jackson traveled to New York and prowled the streets for several days in search of black victims to “start a race war.” To further Jackson’s violent agenda, he fatally stabbed Timothy Caughman with a sword.

On Wednesday, the Caughman murder case came to a conclusion with Jackson pleading guilty to Murder in the First Degree in Furtherance of an Act of Terrorism, Murder in the Second Degree as a Crime of Terrorism, Murder in the Second Degree as a Hate Crime, and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree. He is expected to receive the maximum sentence of life in prison when he is sentenced next month.

Caughman was a 66-year-old black man, a beloved New Yorker, and a patriot.

When Jackson was arrested, he told detectives that he had traveled from his home in Baltimore to New York to kill black men as a, “declaration of global total war on the Negro race,” and to dissuade white women from engaging in interracial relationships.

Given the brutal underlying facts of Timothy Caughman’s murder, classifying the crime as “terrorism” was not specifically necessary to ensuring that Jackson would be subject to maximum penalties; Jackson could have been convicted of First Degree murder with or without being deemed a terrorist. However, the classification is far from meaningless.

In declaring Jackson’s race-motivated violence terrorist activity, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. is sending the message that crimes carried out in the name of white supremacy will be treated not only as attacks on their direct victims, but also as attacks on New York’s entire civilian population.

Under the applicable statute in New York, which mirrors the FBI guidelines to define terrorism, Murder in Furtherance of An Act of Terrorism is a murder committed “with intent to cause the death of another person,” when the violent act was intended to, “intimidate or coerce a civilian population,” “influence the policy of a unit of government by intimidation or coercion,” or, “affect the conduct of a unit of government by murder, assassination or kidnapping.”

Under the statute, therefore, no meaningful distinction exists between violence committed against a government for political reasons or that committed against an individual for racist ones. Terror is terror, regardless of the motivation for the underlying hate.

As Vance explained, such a moniker would not bring back victims, but would constitute, “the loudest message that a civil society can send to would-be terrorists.”  In 2019 America, in which “Unite the Right” and similar white supremacist rallies have garnered an unnerving amount of popular support, New York’s declaration is the correct message at the correct time.

[image via ABC screengrab]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. She is a frequent media contributor, and is Of Counsel to Smedley & Lis, in Woodbury, New Jersey. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos

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