These keep getting later and later. It all stems back to when the internet wouldn’t stay on a couple weeks back. Granted, the summer’s getting longer and my naps are starting later. Anyhow. It’s Friday and we’ve been sort of scattered all week, so let’s see if we can’t wrap it all up in some understandable fashion.
With what all’s been going on in the country, we really haven’t been paying much attention to home as of late. There have been some protests throughout Mississippi over the murder of George Floyd by Minnesota policeman Derek Chauvin as three of his co-workers watched, all with the hands in their pockets for some reason. For the most part, they’ve been pretty calm and low key.
I’m sure you folks outside of Mississippi will have a lot of clever responses to this – and lord knows I’ve heard some dumbass questions from y’all during my 20 years of stomping the Terra – and there is no doubt an strong undercurrent of authoritarian worship in the Magnolia State. That being said, apart from the Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C., we have the largest ratio of black people to white people in the country. Something like 37% of the population is black, with Louisiana being second at 32%.
There have been some protests in Tupelo, Oxford, Columbus, and Jackson. There’s actually been an on-going thing in Tupelo, growing slowly but surely and attracting more voices. Now, of course, Mississippi doesn’t have the best history when it comes to how law enforcement treats black residents. That should come as no surprise. And not enough has changed since the Civil Rights movement.
That being said, the current anger and confusion throughout the country is encouraging the state legislature in Jackson to get up off its collective thumb and stop pretending there isn’t a problem. A number of police reform bills have come through Congress and died like dogs, like mandated cameras on police or independent investigators to look into police-related shootings. Another one would’ve given the vote back to felons after they’d done their time, which half the reason Mississippi has prisons.
Of course, ever legislator interviewed by Mississippi Today on the murder said they found the actual killing of George Floyd bad but most of them had to get all stuffy about the “rioters” rather than the continuing violence of the police in dealing with said protesters because that’s how the world works. As I like to say, that’s politics, baby, and anyone taking a hard stand either way these days would find themselves out on their ass toot sweet.
Of course – and all due respect to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, et. al. – we have our own bit of legal and legislative racism to be embarrassed about. In October 2015, a 26-year-old man named Ricky Ball was shot and killed by Columbus Police Department officer Canyon Boykin during a traffic stop. While very, very few details of that night have been released, one thing that is known is that Boykin and his fellow officers at the scene did not turn on their body cameras. I don’t know why cops don’t understand this, but this always, always looks bad.
Anyhow, then Attorney General and 2019 Democratic candidate for governor was actively prosecuting Boykin. However, since he was running for governor, that meant the AG seat was open. It was won by Kellyanne Conway cosplayer Lynn Fitch, the first Republican elected to the seat since the 1800s. Not reading the room at all, Fitch dropped the case a few days ago with a two-sentence statement, claiming Boykin operated in “necessary self-defense”. The statement in whole:
“The Attorney General’s Office did a thorough and independent review of the thousands of documents in this case file and concluded that there is no evidence on which to prosecute the case against Officer Boykin. In fact, all evidence, including forensics and the sworn statements of four separate MBI investigators, points to necessary self-defense.”
Well, sure, of course. I’m just surprised it took her this long to get to it. Anyhow, this furiously pissed off the African American community and Black Caucus in the State Legislature. Rep. Kabir Karriem of Columbus called it a “knife in the trust of the judicial system”. Protests of AG Fitch’s decision started this afternoon, with 150 people chanting “no free kill”.
“We’re not asking permission,” organizer Danyelle Harris of the Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign said of the rally. “We demand answers. This is not a pep rally. We mean business.”
Columbus is a little different sort of town in Northeast Mississippi. It doesn’t have the history of semi-organized crime you might find in Corinth or Aberdeen but it does have remnants of the Chicago and Los Angeles gangs who tried to get a foothold there. There’s a fairly big air force base and The W, or the Mississippi University for Women, a fairly well-respected if smallish university. It’s also the location for the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, which may sound incongruous but trust me, it’s a really good school. It’s also been known for crime and violence and danger at least since I was a boy. It’s got a large black population and, indeed, DA Colom himself is a black man as is Mayor Robert Smith.
So, that’s where we stand. Ricky Ball is still dead and the state of Mississippi officially thinks he deserved it. Again, this is a prime example of how badly the government, especially Republican government, understands people’s anger, particularly black people’s anger, at how law enforcement treats the people it’s supposed to be protecting and serving. And, yes, especially black people.
Y’all, if you have to hear it from a white man, pay attention to me. This isn’t going away. Not the anger at the indifference to justice in Ball’s case. Not the senseless murder of Floyd by police violence. Not the incompetence and laziness that led to the murder by police of Breonna Taylor while she slept, despite the case being reopened by the FBI. This isn’t going to evaporate away. It never does. The anger from the Rodney King beating or the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., has never really gone away. It just simmers until some other new horror lights the spark again.
We should remember our Langston Hughes. A dream deferred will explode more often than not and we cannot keep hoping it sags or crusts over. We’ve been doing that for far too long.