Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

The (Columbus) Dispatch. July 26, 2021.

Editorial: Bob Moses made Mississippi better

The death of Civil Rights leader Bob Moses, 86, on Sunday will be noted across the world by those who believe in the cause of racial justice.

But Mississippians owe a special debt of gratitude for his service during the critical years of the Civil Rights movement in our state during the 1960s.

A native New Yorker, Moses’ time in Mississippi may have been limited to a few critical years, but the work he achieved endures and cannot be overestimated.

In every great social movement, people gravitate to those whose voices attract the spotlight, people like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer or those who became martyrs to the cause, but the success of any movement depends on those behind the scenes, the organizers and fund-raisers and field workers, the people who give substance to the rhetoric of the cause.

In that respect, Moses stands among the giants of the Civil Rights struggle in our state.

Moses was a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In that position, he implemented voter registration drives for Black citizens, most of whom had been disenfranchised by the systemic racism of Jim Crow rule.

To achieve that goal, Moses was a key player in organizing the Freedom Summer campaign, enlisting college students from across the country to spend the summer of 1964 helping register Black citizens to vote, conducting “Freedom Schools” to promote literacy and a number of other efforts to improve the lives of Mississippi’s long-neglected and much-abused Black population.

Freedom Summer brought national attention to the subhuman status of Mississippi’s Black population, stirring the nation’s conscience.

Moses was also integral in organizing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which chose its own slate of delegates to represent the state when the state’s Democratic Party refused to seat any Black delegates to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. The fight before the credential committee did not succeed, at least not immediately – a compromise allowed just two of the MFDP delegates to be seated. Yet the attention brought to bear by the MFDP helped insure future Mississippi delegations would include Black delegates and would continue to grow as Black Mississippians continued to gravitate toward the national party.

Moses’ efforts not only opened the door for Black citizens to vote but to participate fully in their state government. His work laid the groundwork for Blacks to vote, run and win office and influence policy in a way that would have been hard to imagine before his arrival.

Bob Moses made Mississippi better.

Can there be a greater legacy than that?

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The (McComb) Enterprise-Journal. July 22, 2021.

Editorial: Questions about the Parole Board

For the past dozen years, Mississippi has been on a gradually evolving mission to reform its corrections system by incarcerating fewer offenders and more quickly releasing those it does lock up.

A big part of that is the greater use of parole, a trend fueled by concerns over the high cost of prisons and their potential to turn fledgling non-violent offenders into hardened criminals.

Lawmakers, after erring in the 1990s with a harsh truth-in-sentencing law that nearly mothballed parole, have enacted three major criminal justice reform bills — first in 2008, then in 2014 and now in 2021 — that make greater use of it.

In 2008, the state paroled only 656 inmates, accounting for less than 8% of those released from prison. By 2019, more than 5,104 inmates received parole, representing more than 63% of those released.

It is estimated that the latest legislative change, which took effect July 1, will make an additional 2,000 inmates eligible for parole who otherwise would have had to wait years longer to be considered.

The merits of parole are that it saves the public money while still providing a measure of protection, since the parolees remain under the supervision of the Department of Corrections. Such post-release supervision can also help the former inmate reintegrate into society. Plus there’s an incentive for the parolees to behave, since even minor transgressions can return them to prison.

However, a report last week by a legislative watchdog group raises significant concerns about the body in charge of the parole process.

The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review found a host of problems with the Parole Board, not only in how it carries out its statutory duties but with the members’ work ethic and integrity.

PEER looked at a sampling of 150 inmates who were supposed to come up for parole in 2019. At least a third of the time, the hearings were held either before they were supposed to occur or after.

The Parole Board also had been ignoring one of the 2014 reforms that provided for early release of some inmates without a hearing.

Equally troubling are the report’s findings of how board members may be milking their jobs. PEER agreed with a state auditor’s finding that some board members had been improperly reimbursed for commuting to Jackson to work.

One board member, who lives in Meridian, received more than $20,000 in mileage reimbursements in a year’s time, according to PEER. Another, who lives in Poplarville, collected almost $6,800 in four months.

The board members, all of whom are supposed to be full-time state employees, may be goofing off as well. During one week last October, PEER observed eight hearings that the Parole Board held via teleconference, due to COVID-19 precautions. None of the five members had perfect attendance, and one member missed five of the eight hearings and was considerably late for two others. Yet all five turned in time cards claiming they worked a full 40-hour week, according to PEER.

Steven Pickett, the Parole Board’s chairman, objected to most of PEER’s findings. Among other responses, he claimed that for decades, until State Auditor Shad White made a stink about it last year, members of the Parole Board were routinely reimbursed for their mileage, hotels and food if they lived more than 60 miles from Jackson.

Pickett also claimed that members often work past 5 p.m. and that in the week monitored by PEER, the board conducted a total of 178 hearings, not just the eight cited for allegedly poor attendance.

This is more than an exercise of governmental sniping. The Parole Board comes up next year for its periodic review, at which time the Legislature could consider the prospect — floated in the PEER report — of transferring parole decisions to the Department of Corrections, rather than having them made by an independent body.

That would be a mistake. There would be all kinds of potential for abuse — including coercion and bribes — if those who guard the inmates also get to decide when they get out.

A better remedy is already in Gov. Tate Reeves’ hands. If there are any slackers on the Parole Board, or if they are unable to do the job as it is spelled out in state law, they can be replaced at any time.

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The Vicksburg Post. July 23, 2021.

Editorial: Southern Heritage Air Foundation is preserving history

A 20-minute trip across the Mississippi River will land you near Tallulah at the Southern Heritage Air Foundation Museum.

Founded by former Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice and his son, Dan, the museum houses World War II-era memorabilia and a host of working WWII-era aircraft. It's a place that educates those too young to remember what the Second World War was really like, and — just as important — it serves as a place where veterans of all ages can commune in the name of preserving history.

Take a walk around the museum on any given day, and you’ll be met face-to-face with veterans, eager to share their stories. Some spent time as prisoners of war in foreign lands; others recall being drafted and shipped to war-torn countries, only to return home without the hero’s welcome they deserved.

Every story is important because society often forgets one simple truth: The United States of America is the greatest country on earth. No other country affords the same freedom of speech, the same choices and opportunities.

Every single American owes the men and women who served a sincere thank-you.

So, the next time you find yourself with a few free hours, stop by the Southern Heritage Air Foundation Museum. Thank a veteran, and maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.

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