A Mississippi man pleaded guilty in federal court to burning a cross in his front yard with the intent to intimidate a Black family, the US justice department said.
Axel Cox, 24, of Gulfport in south Mississippi, mounted a wooden cross in his front yard on 2 December 2020, officials said. He then doused it with motor oil and lit it within view of his neighbors, who are Black.
The justice department said Cox “admitted that he burned the cross because of the victims’ race and because they were occupying a home next to his”.
Cox also used threatening and racially derogatory remarks towards his Black neighbors, the department said.
Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for civil rights, said: “Burning a cross invokes the long and painful history, particularly in Mississippi, of intimidation and impending physical violence against Black people.
“The Department of Justice will continue to prosecute those who use racially motivated violence to drive people away from their homes or communities.”
Cox admitted to violating the Fair Housing Act, according to court documents. He is scheduled to be sentenced on 9 March 2023 and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.
Black Americans have increasingly found themselves the target of hate crimes. Between 2019 and 2020, hate crimes against Black Americans rose by 46%, the New York Times reported.
“Individuals in our communities should be free from threats and intimidation,” said Luis Quesada, assistant director of the FBI Criminal Investigative Division.
“The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to bring to justice anyone who violates the federal laws designed to ensure civil rights are protected.”