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Editor’s Note: Grace Elizabeth Hale is the Commonwealth Professor of American Studies and History at the University of Virginia and the author of, most recently, “In the Pines: A Lynching, a Lie, a Reckoning.” The views expressed here are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.

CNN — 

I am the granddaughter of a Mississippi sheriff. I am also a historian who has spent the last five years researching the history of law enforcement in Mississippi. For these reasons, I was sadly unsurprised by the violent actions of a group of White male deputies in Rankin County, Mississippi some of whom called themselves the “The Goon Squad.”

The horrific nature of what happened in Rankin County in January 2023 is beyond dispute. On Tuesday, former sheriff’s deputy Hunter Elward, who pleaded guilty in August to multiple charges and admitted to torturing two Black men, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. He is one of six former Mississippi law enforcement officers (five were deputies of the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office, one is an ex-police officer) who pleaded guilty to federal charges and are being sentenced this week. At Elward’s sentencing, the lead attorney for the victims, Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker, read aloud from their victim impact statements. “I don’t know if I will ever be able to sleep at night. I fear I will be attacked again and even killed,” said Parker. “I don’t think I’ll ever be the person I was,” said Jenkins.

All five of these former deputies were under the supervision of Bryan Bailey, sheriff of Rankin County. Bailey, also White, has not been charged, but he was named in the ongoing federal lawsuit that brought this barbarity to light. In August 2023, Bailey said he was “ashamed” by his deputies, whose “criminal actions” he said “tarnished” a police badge.

He’s right, of course. Yet his words don’t tell the full story.

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