JACKSON, Miss. – More than eight months after 37-year-old Dexter Wade was killed and later buried in a poor man’s field, his mother gave her only son the formal burial he had been denied.
Civil rights leaders flew in from across the country for the service on Monday. Several elected officials, including a member of Congress, found a place in the church audience along with grieving family members. A gospel choir sang of hope for better days ahead, flanked on stage by 15 ornate bouquets of flowers, including one shaped after the initials of the man whose violent death and discreet burial had sparked a national outcry: “DW.”
At the front of the room, standing in front of a ruby casket, Bettersten Wade, Dexter Wade’s mother, wiped the tears from her cheeks and prepared to say goodbye.
From the church stage, with Dexter Wade’s two teenage daughters standing by her side, Bettersten Wade spoke of the months she had spent searching and praying for her son’s return, unaware that he had been run over by a police officer. and buried in the county cemetery.
“When this game started,” Bettersten Wade said, “I started for myself.”
Now, with a live video feed streaming the service to a national audience, she addressed her son directly.
“Dexter,” she said, choking up, “you made it home.”
Her search to find her son began shortly after he left home on March 5 and did not return. For months afterward, missing persons investigators at the Jackson Police Department told her they had no leads. Then, in late August, officers revealed he had been struck by a Jackson police cruiser while crossing a six-lane highway less than an hour after leaving home.
The Hinds County coroner’s office told her his body had been buried in a pauper’s field in July after authorities failed to reach his next of kin — although an independent autopsy performed on the family’s behalf this month, according to the family’s attorneys, showed Dexter Wade was buried with a state ID with his home address.
The case sparked public outrage when NBC News reported on it last month. Civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and Dennis Sweet took on the case and helped arrange Dexter Wade’s exhumation, the independent autopsy, and eventually a funeral. Last week, county workers dug up his body hours before an appointed time, adding another indignity to Bettersten Wade’s ordeal.
Both Crump and Sweet were in the audience at New Horizon Church International when the Rev. Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation,” delivered Dexter Wade’s eulogy Monday. Sharpton spoke about Wade’s daughters, who would end up growing up without a father, and about fighting to hold the city of Jackson and Hinds County accountable. In all his years speaking on behalf of the families of those killed by police, Sharpton said he had “never heard one like this.”
“His life meant something to his mother, to his daughters,” Sharpton said. “And we’re going to make it happen across this country.”
Crump said giving Wade “a respectable burial” was just the beginning of the fight for accountability. He has called on the Ministry of Justice to investigate the matter.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss, attended the funeral and said Dexter Wade’s family deserves to know more about what happened to him.
“Who investigated? Were any policies violated?” Thompson said. “As far as I know, none of this information has been made available.”
In a statement last week responding to the allegation that Dexter Wade was buried with an ID showing his home address, a spokesman for the city of Jackson said Hinds County was responsible for examining, burying and exhuming his body, which remained in county custody from county custody. The moment a forensic pathologist arrived at the scene of the accident. The medical examiner’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens and Jackson City Councilman Kenneth Stokes were also in attendance, part of an outpouring of support from local leaders. Owens has said his office is working with city and county officials on a “full review” of the case. Stokes issued an apology Sunday on behalf of the city council and apologized again during the funeral.
Jackson’s mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, has blamed a failure in communication for the botched case and said the police officers did not intend to cause the Wade family any harm. Last week, Police Chief Joseph Wade said he had adopted the police department’s first-ever policy on death reports; the city has not provided a copy in response to NBC News’ requests.
But Bettersten Wade and her attorneys have said the city’s response is not enough.
“It’s just trivial things,” Sweet said. “We need some real change.”
Bettersten Wade said Monday’s funeral brought her some comfort but not peace because so much remains unexplained.
“Now he must rest,” she said of her son. “He can rest. But his mother will not rest until I get justice. Until I find out what happened to him. Until I find out who and what was involved.”
When he was buried in a manor’s plot this summer, his grave was only marked with a number: 672.
Now a white hearse drove Dexter Wade’s coffin to a newly built cemetery, where his mother, father, grandmother, daughters and other relatives gathered around a freshly dug grave. A priest said a final prayer. Family members placed white, yellow and red roses on the casket. They chanted “Justice for Dexter Wade.”
The coffin was slowly lowered into the ground. A cover was placed over it with a name tag: “Dexter Alex Wade 1985-2023.”
At his son’s second funeral, Bettersten Wade stood up and dropped a handful of dirt on his casket.
“I’ll see you when I get home,” she said.