Mississippi editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Greenwood Commonwealth on controversial events that put Mississippi into the national spotlight:
Two recent events that made national news are sure to make Mississippians wonder if the state will ever shed its unfair and outdated image as a racist backwater.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, by a strong 7-2 margin, that District Attorney Doug Evans pursued a “relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals” during six trials of Curtis Flowers, a black man accused of killing four people — three of them white — in a Winona furniture store in 1996.
The DA, who is unopposed this year for an eighth term, disputes the Supreme Court’s conclusion about his jury selection tactics. But Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s opinion noted that Evans had used nearly all of his pre-emptory strikes — 41 out of 42, to be exact — to remove potential black jurors over the course of the six trials.
“We cannot ignore that history,” Kavanaugh’s ruling said. His sentence speaks quite accurately about the way the rest of the country often looks down at this state.
The other prominent Mississippi-related national news development, of course, was former Vice President Joe Biden’s awkward personal example of how lawmakers of different opinions and backgrounds can work together.
Biden, who leads Democratic polls for the 2020 nomination, said that when he first got to the U.S. Senate in the early 1970s, he had to work with segregationist Southern lawmakers such as Herman Talmadge of Georgia and James O. Eastland of Mississippi.
Biden, who has a history of misspeaking, was trying to explain to voters how he has the experience to bring a polarized federal government together to get more things done, whereas many of the other candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination are determined to gear up for a scorchedearth battle with Republicans.
But his inelegant attempt at expressing what should otherwise be a commendable trait ended up not only embarrassing Biden but also reinforcing old stereotypes about Mississippi.
Within a few hours of Biden’s reference to Eastland, reporters dug up an all-star list of the late senator’s quotes, including his resistance to any form of integration. The most frequently used one was from 1944: “I have no prejudice in my heart, but the white race is the superior race and the Negro race an inferior race and the races must be kept separate.”
Other remarks on Eastland’s greatest-hits list include telling Mississippians, a year after the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation ruling, they didn’t have to obey a court that makes decisions on “plainly fraudulent sociological considerations.” And in 1964, when three civil rights workers disappeared in Neshoba County, Eastland told President Lyndon Johnson he thought it was a publicity stunt.
It hardly needs saying in Mississippi, but the state has changed greatly for the better in race relations since Eastland’s time. Biden’s flawed analogy, however, reopened a wound that affects the state’s image even now, one which no amount of treatment seems to heal.
Daily Journal on inequities in Mississippi’s bail system:
The criminal justice system has long had a significant inequality involving the practice of defendants posting bail.
The system allows those who have been arrested and charged with a crime — but not yet convicted — to be released from jail while awaiting the conclusion of a trial. In return, the defendant agrees to put up a large sum of bail money — with the amount set by a judge — as an assurance that he or she will show up for trial and will not attempt to flee and hide. The system works for those who can afford it, but it has meant that indigent individuals do not have the same opportunity to pre-trial freedom as wealthier defendants do.
That can have larger repercussions as poor defendants often lose jobs and miss other opportunities while they sit in jail solely due to lack of funds, thus slipping even deeper into a cycle of poverty.
As criminal justice reform has received growing attention across Mississippi and even the nation as a whole, the flaw in the bail system has caught the attention of a Jackson-based group that has begun a grassroots effort to fix it.
A coalition of organizers, with the assistance of the State Public Defender’s office, has launched the Mississippi Bail Fund Collective, as reported by the Daily Journal’s Caleb Bedillion. Modeled on similar programs elsewhere in the country, the collective aims to pay bail as needed for selected felony defendants. Funded through donations, it is active only in Hinds County right now, though organizers hope to grow funding and spread it elsewhere.
Those who receive help from the collective are chosen based on interviews. In addition to bond money, they may also receive other assistance, such as housing and medical assistance or guidance.
In the American criminal justice system, individuals are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the bail fund is an equalizer, ensuring income isn’t a defining factor in whether an individual has to sit in jail while awaiting trial. Some defendants are denied bond because of the nature of their crimes or the likeliness of them fleeing the court, but that is different than someone who can not afford to pay.
Even more significant than the fund, however, is the group’s aim to spark more conversation about possible changes to the existing system. In Lee County, for instance, “signature bonds” — in which defendants are released based only on a promise to reappear rather than on posting a monetary sum — have become more common in recent years in response to overcrowding at the local jail. Perhaps such a model calls for greater use across the state.
We appreciate the grassroots efforts of the collective to meet an immediate need while also forcing conversations that can lead to meaningful change. We urge individuals across the state to spread their effort to more counties, and we hope the end result brings a more equitable system.
The Neshoba Democrat on state recognition for economic development:
A Carthage poultry plant’s expansion contributed to Mississippi receiving the 2019 Gold Shovel Award for economic development. ...
Pearl River Foods adding 450 workers in Carthage last year was a major factor in Mississippi receiving the coveted Gold Shovel Award given for large jobs creation and investment projects in diverse industries. Mississippi was among five other states recognized for excellence.
Amazon was one of the biggest job contributors, with headquarter announcements that affected multiple states, including a distribution facility it will open in Marshall County Mississippi bringing over 850 jobs.
A day later it was announced Taylor Defense Products LLC of Louisville had been awarded a U.S. Navy contract worth up to $84 million to repair and maintain all-terrain cranes for the Marine Corps.
This is all good news for East-Central Mississippi in desperate need of more sustainable jobs.
The company will receive an initial $9.71 million in FY2019 defense appropriations to begin repair and maintenance on up to 145 all-terrain cranes, which are designed to provide high-speed, all-terrain capability to lift and swing extremely heavy loads.
This work will be performed in Louisville and is expected to be completed by June 2029.
As for the poultry plant, the presenters said Mississippi displayed a diversity in manufacturing and related sectors.
A $170 million retooling at the Toyota assembly plant in Blue Springs where an additional 400 workers will be needed to roll more next-generation Corollas off the line also contributed to the award.
Neshoba County hasn’t had a significant jobs announcement like the Carthage poultry plant in two decades, but Gov. Bryant was in Philadelphia on Wednesday to embrace Marty Stuart’s Congress of Country Music, a state-of-the-art country music museum and performing arts center here in Philadelphia. The facility will house more than 20,000 country music artifacts Stuart has collected over the years while also offering space for live musical performances and educational programming.
The center is a hopeful proposition in need of major funding the state and county don’t have. Perhaps more gatherings like Wednesday will lead to a benefactor.
As for the jobs, Gov. Phil Bryant and the Republican leadership deserve credit for creating an atmosphere for jobs growth by, among other things, cutting taxes, although education remains a challenge, especially in rural areas like ours.
The Gold Shovel Award illustrates Mississippi is moving in the right direction, but there’s a lot more work to be done.