March 10, 2023

Mississippi Man Sentenced for Federal Hate Crime for Cross Burning

Morgan Howard

Axel Cox, 23, of Gulfport is charged with hate crime and arson violations for burning a cross in his own front yard to threaten and intimidate a Black family that lived next door.(Harrison County Sheriff's Dept.)

A Mississippi man was sentenced Friday before U.S. District Judge Halil S. Ozerden to 42 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and restitution in the amount of $7,810 for burning a cross in his front yard with the intent to intimidate a Black family who lived nearby.

According to court documents, in Gulfport, Mississippi, on Dec. 3, 2020, 24-year-old Axel Cox, violated the Fair Housing Act when he used threatening and racially derogatory language toward his Black neighbors and burned a cross to intimidate them.

After a dispute with the Black family victims, Cox wedged two pieces of wood together to form a cross, placed it in clear view of the victim’s residence, doused it in oil, and set it alight.

During this incident, Cox yelled threats and racial slurs toward the occupants of the house. Cox admitted that he lit the cross on fire because the victims were Black and that he intended to scare them into moving out of the neighborhood.

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “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.”

“No one should endure such hatred and intimidation because of the color of his skin,” said U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca for the Southern District of Mississippi. “This defendant has been held accountable. His sentence should permeate among his kind and declare that Mississippi and the Department of Justice will not tolerate this hateful behavior.”

“Mr. Axel Cox sought to intimidate members of the community through his intimidating threats,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Jermicha Fomby of the FBI Jackson Field Office. “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.”

A federal grand jury indicted Cox on Sept. 20, 2022. Cox faced a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison for interfering with the victims’ housing rights and a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence, for using fire to commit a federal felony. Cox also faced a fine of up to $250,000 with respect to each charge.

Assistant Attorney General Clarke, U.S. Attorney LaMarca and Special Agent in Charge Fomby made the announcement.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Cabell Jones for the Southern District of Mississippi and former Trial Attorney Noah Coakley II of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section prosecuted the case.

For more information and resources on the department’s efforts to combat hate crimes, click here.

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