On May 26, Jessica and Franklin Richardson decided to take their dog to Starkville, Mississippi’s Oktibbeha County Lake to enjoy the long Memorial Day weekend and have a picnic.
But what was supposed to be a relaxing day quickly turned ugly when a white campground manager approached the young black couple while holding a gun and told them they were trespassing on private property and needed to leave immediately.
The campground employee, 70-year old Ruby Nell Howell, has since been fired. On June 4, she turned herself in to law enforcement to face a single charge of “threatening exhibition of a weapon,” according to the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office.
The misdemeanor charge carries a possible sentence of three months in jail and a maximum fine of $500, according to CNN. Howell is scheduled to appear in court on June 25.
The incident was captured in a now-viral video recorded by Jessica Richardson and posted to Facebook on May 26. In the video, Howell can be seen holding a gun at her side as she tells the couple that they need to have a reservation to use the land near the lake.
RACISM IS ALIVE AND WELL!! Today was a beautiful day so my husband (who's a vet), our 2 year old dog, and myself, decided to Google a lake to visit and have a picnic. We found a lake located in starkville, ms and decided to visit. Not five mins later a truck pulls up and a white lady screams at us, she then jumps out of her truck with a Gun. And proceeded to point it at the 3 of us, simply because we didnt make reservations. After leaving my husband stopped by the office and talked with her husband (they're the property managers). The husband tells my husband that reservations aren't needed for the lake. This happened In Starkville,MsPosted by Jessica Richardson on Sunday, May 26, 2019
“This lady just literally pulled a gun because we’re out here and didn’t have reservations for a lake we didn’t even know we needed reservations for,” Richardson says in the 39-second video, as she faces the woman holding the gun. “We didn’t know. All you had to do was tell us.”
“You need to leave because it’s under private ownership,” Howell responds, after tucking the gun into the pocket of her shorts. “Y’all just can’t be out here. KOA [Kampgrounds of America] will not let you.”
The Richardsons stopped at the campground’s office as they left, telling a different manager about what transpired near the lake. That manager replied that the couple did not need a reservation. Soon after, Howell appeared again, yelling at the couple that they needed to leave the property.
According to the Washington Post, Howell was later fired by Kampgrounds of America, the commercial chain that oversees the Starkville site. “Kampgrounds of America does not condone the use of a firearm in any manner on our properties or those owned and operated by our franchisees,” the company said in a statement.
The Richardsons’ experience is disturbing — and disturbingly familiar. It’s the latest in a series of recent viral incidents in which black people have been treated with suspicion and accused of criminal activity while just going about their daily lives.
The Mississippi campground incident follows months of stories of black people being treated with hostility and suspicion
The viral video serves as the latest in a series of “Living While Black” incidents — high-profile stories of black people being viewed with suspicion, subjected to 911 calls, or confronted by police officers for simply existing in public spaces.
Using a phone in a hotel lobby, trying to cash a check at a bank, babysitting white children, mowing lawns, selling water, eating at Subway, sleeping in a college common room, and entering their own apartment buildings: There have been countless stories in the past year of black men, women, and children who were trying to go about their daily lives only to be interrupted by a (usually white) stranger challenging their presence — challenges that often culminate in interaction with the police.
The stories have highlighted the ways that black people are often viewed with suspicion and are demanded to justify their presence in certain spaces or communities.
The Washington Post notes that the Mississippi incident also stands out due to a long history of black men and women being discouraged from visiting national parks, a history that has played a role in park visitorship remaining predominantly white even now.
People subjected to these incidents have described dealing with increased stress and anger as a result. Others in similar profiling incidents have said they feared they’d make a mistake during interactions with police officers or armed civilians— and that their mistake could be fatal.
According to the Post, the Richardsons are not the first to be screamed at or accused of trespassing while trying to visit the Mississippi campground. Online reviews note that managers have yelled at others for failing to make reservations or not checking in at the campground office.
But the fact that the property manager pulled a gun, and continued to berate the couple as they attempted to leave, went way beyond what other people reported.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Franklin Richardson, a sergeant in the Army National Guard who recently returned from a nine-month deployment in the Middle East, told the local Mississippi outlet WCBI. “You go over there and don’t have a gun pointed at you, and you come back home and the first thing that happens is you have a gun pointed at you.”
His wife Jessica says the encounter was a potent reminder that “racism is alive and well,” noting that Howell seemed to yell at the couple in the same way a person would yell at a stray animal, and that she treated the couple as if they were beneath her.
“You can feel the intent behind it,” Richardson told WCBI. “I felt it. I felt the heat from it. I felt it in her eyes. I knew exactly what it was.”