Southern Hate Crimes Echo A Familiar refrain of Organized Crime (IPSN 97-8-28)

Southern Hate Crimes Echo a Familiar Refrain of Organized Crime

IPSN August 28, 1997

Within a deadly three hour period in February 1996, three African-American churches and another building housing a local charity in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, were deliberately torched by a white man named Frank Marvin New, who recently pled guilty to this vicious hate crime after agreeing to cooperate with federal investigators seeking to penetrate a wider conspiracy involving at least four suspects who hatched a plot in Port Vincent, Louisiana on January 31, 1996. It is just one of 250 church-arson attacks aimed against the black community in the South in the last two years. Only a handful have been linked to conspiracies with two or more people at the vortex.

In Elk Creek, Virginia recently, a bad seed by the name of Louis Ceparano – a newcomer to the county – set Garnett Paul Johnson on fire and beheaded him. Johnson was an African-American Marine Corps veteran who fell into bad company. Ceparano and his sidekick Emmett Cressell, Jr., were juiced up on liquor when they decided to end Johnson’s life just for the hell of it.

Louis Ceparano was charged with capital murder. Cressell, a witless good old boy with a reputation for violence and a lengthy criminal record, was charged with first-degree murder while the U.S. Justice Department considers filing civil rights violations.

These random, unprovoked acts of terror and intimidation perpetrated against Southern blacks are not usually considered organized crime as it is commonly understood by northerners.

These depraved actions are no less insidious and certainly no different than the extortion tactics of the wise guys in the large urban areas of the industrial north. The lesson to be learned from the collective hate mongering of southern racist roughnecks who have failed to grasp the deeper significance of the 1960s civil rights movement, is that organized crime assumes many different shapes and forms but the victims share one common and unifying thread.

The criminal, through his malevolent and violent act of intimidation, has robbed the victim of his or her dignity and sense of well being in the community. In the case of G.P. Johnson, it cost him his life.

How different are the actions of a Mario Rainone for example, who extorted thousands of dollars in “street tax” each month in the 1980s from various North Shore restaurant owners while working for Lenny Patrick’s crew, than the white supremacist launching a fiery torch at an African-American church from the back of a pick-up truck?

Their reprehensible actions achieve the same net affect: the ruthless exploitation of the weak by the forces of organized crime. In the South, historically, the largest criminal organization was the Ku Klux Klan, a secret, oath-bound society demanding loyalty from its members on the penalty of death. If this is not the “Southern Mafia” – another example of the complex network of organized crime in the United States, then what else could it be?