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Back the Badge


‘Back the Badge’ May Back Civilians into a Corner

April 6, 2017 – Last month, Mississippi’s Republican governor signed a controversial new bill manufactured to empower state law enforcement, potentially setting the stage for new, harsher sentences for people that police accuse of crimes of violence against law enforcement.

House Bill 645—which is now law—declares that “every person convicted of a crime of violence … upon a peace officer, emergency medical technician or first responder while such person is acting in his or her official capacity … shall, upon conviction … be punished by a term of imprisonment of up to three times that authorized by law for the violation, or a fine of up to three times that authorized by law for the violation, or both.”

The bill was largely supported by white legislators who claim the law exists solely to discourage violence against emergency workers or law enforcement. Attorneys who frequently defend suspects caught up in police bureaucracy, however, see it a differently.

“(The law) gives far too much latitude for (police) to interpret frustration or freedom of speech in a way that could violate the constitutional rights of individuals, just because they disagree with law enforcement,” said attorney Chokwe Antar Lumumba. “I want to see people protected in every walk of life, including law enforcement officers, but people forget that law enforcement officers are people, too. They have good and bad days, just like us.”

Lumumba, who is running for mayor of the city of Jackson, said police are human, and are therefore just as capable of misrepresenting incident accounts as any suspect, and could exaggerate police/civilian encounters to look like a crime of violence. Without proper vetting from an attentive defense team, many angry or vindictive officers’ overblown descriptions could easily reach a jury and sway it. This likelihood increases in a justice system, like Mississippi’s, that pits a woefully-inadequate public defense system against a well-funded prosecution team.

More than 10 years ago, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) issued a report revealing how legislators’ refusal to contribute to the defense of the poor “created a system that consistently ranks among the most poorly funded in the nation.” According to the 2003 LDF report, Assembly Line Justice, inadequate indigent defense funding “[leads] to a poorly organized, patchwork system.”  Since 2003, only a handful of Mississippi counties now have an office staffed by one or more full-time public defenders. Instead, most counties contract part-time defenders who have their own day jobs running private practices, or they appoint private attorneys to represent defendants on a case-by-case basis. Many of these private attorneys admit that they do not have the resources to compete with a full-time prosecution team.

Several black and Democratic lawmakers opposing the legislation during debate a few months ago referenced multiple accounts of police racial profiling black citizens.

Rep. Chris Bell giving accounts of racial profiling. Photo credit: Jackson Free Press

Rep. Chris Bell, D-Jackson, hinted at bill advocates’ disingenuous police support when white lawmakers repeatedly failed to approve his amendment to the bill giving law enforcement officers a 10 percent raise. White lawmakers were also unwilling to add additional charges against police found guilty of covering up any crime against a person or persons and shot down Greenville Rep. John Hines’ amendment to do just that.

The white House majority passed the bill and voted down black lawmakers’ every attempt to amend it, including Jackson Reps. Earle Banks and Adrienne Wooten, and Belzoni Rep. Rufus Straughter—all of whom are Democrats.

The shift to further empower and embolden police officers in Mississippi follows the mood of Republican President Donald Trump, who may view the massive nationwide protests of his many discriminatory decisions as a threat to his presidency. Trump described massive marches against him in November as “Very unfair,” on Twitter, and then dismissed protestors as “professional protesters, incited by the media,” and allegedly funded by shadow groups—none of whom he has managed to unmask, despite considerable White House access to information and resources.

Trump’s White House also adopted a hardline policy against suspects targeted by police by endorsing opposition to “the dangerous anti-police atmosphere;” an atmosphere that the president has also never managed to prove exists. With his new “Standing Up for Our Law Enforcement Community” declaration, Trump proclaimed that the government’s job “is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter.” Some critics have taken that as an outright threat to protestors.

To learn more about Mississippi criminal justice bills, click here.


Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors. For more information about the Mississippi NAACP or news stories, call 601-353-8452 or log on to Like us on Facebook by searching Mississippi NAACP and follow us on Twitter @MSNAACP.

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Trump Policy Stands to Help Poison Poor Children of Color

April 6, 2017 – A recent decision by the Environmental Protection Agency will likely expose more African-Americans in rural farming areas to a dangerous, brain-damaging toxin known as chlorpyrifos.

“Children, in general, are more susceptible to pesticide poisoning for physiological reasons, and this particular pesticide has an established neurotoxic effect,” said Devika Ghai, international campaign coordinator at environmental justice nonprofit Pesticide Action Network. “We actually have been warning about the toxicity of this chemical for about 20 years. It has already been banned for household use for years now. If it is banned in (urban) areas but not in rural, farming areas then that is a signaling of whose lives are more important.”

Ghai said her organization filed a lawsuit with the EPA, asking the agency to re-examine chlorpyrifo’s use in farming communities, and that EPA scientists had actually conceded the threat that the chemical posed to youth. As recently as last November, the EPA revealed the pesticide can cause lowered intelligence and attention deficits, as well as motor and memory problems in children. The report claims that one- and two-year-old children risk exposure from food that is 14,000 percent above a “safe” level.

However, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt chose to align with the profit-minded, agribusinesses machine and against children by refusing to ban the insecticide. Pruitt signed his order late last month, allowing farmers and giant agribusinesses to continue using chlorpyrifos, also known as Lorsban insecticide, on food crops, over the cries of dissent from EPA scientists.

Numerous studies outside the EPA also connect the poison to neurodevelopmental problems, including ADHD and learning difficulties. Former MSU students blew past the “IF” question on chlorpyrifos toxicity as far back as 1997 and delved into the “HOW” of why it is so toxic. (Authors concluded that juvenile rats detox at lower levels than adults, making them particularly susceptible.)

Studies on chlorpyrifos insecticide—and the whole organophosphorus family of pesticides to which it belongs—offer a near unanimous flood of warnings against living near farmland using the insecticide. One in-depth examination of the environmental causes of autism and developmental delay determined that the application of agricultural pesticides, in general, greatly increases the risk of autism in unborn children. The study also found that women who lived less than a mile from fields where chlorpyrifos insecticides were used while in their second trimesters of pregnancy tripled their chances of giving birth to an autistic child.

This is particularly bad news for the majority-African-American occupants of the highly-cultivated territory of the Mississippi Delta. A 2010 report by health-awareness non-profit, Beyond Pesticides, reveals that low-income populations and people of color experience disproportionately-high health problems, morbidity, and mortality due to toxic exposure. In fact, African Americans are four to six times more likely than whites to die from health complications, such as asthma, according to the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. Knowing this, the organization argues that a disproportionate impact will most likely be felt in the African-American community every time U.S. policies allow regulators to permit the use of pesticides with known hazardous effects.

Children living in poverty are the hardest hit from pesticide exposure due to the numerous hallmarks of living without money or resources. These hallmarks include poor nutrition, weakened respiratory and immune systems, inadequate health care, and lack of information on pesticide hazards and non-toxic alternatives to pesticides, as well as a higher chance of living near contaminated air and water from chemical manufacturing plants and waste. The fact that the children of the Mississippi Delta are some of the most impoverished youth in the nation fits snugly into the nation’s longstanding trend of poisoning minorities first.

The Pruitt decision comes as little surprise, considering the EPA head’s career as a devoted industry lapdog. While serving as the attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt often sided with giant oil and gas companies that caused rampant earthquakes in his own state. Oil companies, seeking to dispose of dangerous fracking fluid used to recover deep oil and gas deposits, injected the caustic fracking runoff into old oil wells. Their relentless flooding of Oklahoma oil wells lubricated a dangerous Oklahoma fault line and reactivated it, triggering incessant and destructive quakes throughout the state.

Pruitt never tried to sue the offending oil companies at any point during his career as attorney general of that beleaguered state. In fact, the release of Pruitt’s emails earlier this year reinforced his obscenely-close ties with the same oil, gas, and utility companies that he was charged with policing. Prior to his appointment as head of the EPA, critics raged that Pruitt had sued his own EPA a total of 14 times in his unending effort to challenge sensible environmental regulation. He even went so far as to reprint anti-environmental, corporate opinions under his own AG letterhead and forward them to the EPA, as if they were his own.

The EPA head also made clear his low regard for almost-universally accepted climate-change science, claiming recently he does not believe carbon dioxide is primarily to blame for global warming. His decision could impact millions of poor and minority populations living along the planet’s coastlines as sea levels continue to rise with the melting of polar ice.

Pruitt’s careless environmental policy reflects the attitude of the president who appointed him, however. Just recently, President Donald Trump similarly ignored decades of scientific research supporting human-induced climate change by rolling back reams of carbon-reducing federal policy.


To learn more about how environmental justice affects your community click here

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Cold as ICE: A Massive Push for Deportation

March 5, 2017 – United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are loose and swarming the nation, conducting raids and deportations under the marching orders of President Donald Trump.

Daniela Vargas speaks to reporters in Jackson, Miss., on March 1, 2017. A short time after the news conference, immigration enforcement agents detained the young “Dreamer.” (Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press)

In Mississippi, ICE officials partnering with law officers from other state agencies arrested 55 people late last month while executing federal criminal search warrants at eight different restaurants in Flowood, Meridian, and Pearl. Spokespeople for ICE claimed they were hunting criminal aliens and gang members, although the agency appears to happily target non-criminals who are the friends and family of suspects, according to Bill Chandler, head of the Mississippi Immigrants’ Rights Alliance (MIRA), in Jackson.

Last month Chandler said he got a call that ICE was conducting a raid on the home of Argentinian immigrants Daniel Vargas and his son Alan Vargas. Agents grabbed the two outside their home and arrested them as they were getting ready for work. When officials discovered that Vargas’ 22-year-old daughter Daniela Vargas was inside the house they demanded entrance, but Daniela Vargas was smart enough to refuse.

“We believe they were after Alan, but when they go into a house and find other people they typically shake them down too,” said Chandler. “That’s what they did with her father, who had no arrests and no convictions.”

The young woman called relatives to rescue her before ICE agents returned with a warrant, but relatives noticed the agents skulking around her property, waiting to pounce. After getting a warrant, agents tore through the door and hand-cuffed the daughter that day, but Daniela Vargas’ DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status temporarily protected her from immediate arrest and deportation.

Agents temporarily released Vargas, who had been attending classes at USM before dropping out to save up for tuition. Agents allegedly told her that they were “not going to take you now, but we’re going to come back for you later.”

ICE agents did indeed grab Vargas later, March 1, after she attended a news conference advocating on behalf of other DACA youth caught up the nation’s new war on immigrants. Vargas’ attorney, Abby Peterson, said Vargas’ DACA status expired three months ago, and that she was unable to save up for the $495 application fee. Authorities detained her at an ICE holding facility in Louisiana, but released her a few days later after widespread public outcry.

Agents’ increasingly aggressive tactics are also interfering with the nation’s judicial system. The chief justice of California’s Supreme Court recently demanded that agents stop “stalking” local courthouses, trying to snatch immigrants who were testifying in court cases. MIRA claims ICE agents have been eager to conduct mass deportations against brown immigrants for years, but that the Obama administration had “yanked the leash” and kept agents civilized. The new, more blatantly racist president, however, appears to support mass deportations.

President Trump recently ordered federal officials to hunt, detain, and deport undocumented residents, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes. The president seeks to strip some immigrants of privacy protections and draft local law enforcement as additional soldiers. He also intends to build new detention facilities and discourage asylum. Trump lauded recent nationwide immigration raids as a “military operation.”

“We’re getting gang members out, we’re getting drug lords out, we’re getting really bad dudes out of this country — and at a rate that nobody’s ever seen before,” Trump told reporters.

Those bad dudes apparently include people like Daniel Vargas, who has no known criminal record, as well as more than 50 restaurant workers cooking food and cleaning tables in Jackson metro restaurants.

White Mississippi leaders are only too happy to praise the effort. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant joined 26 other states in a 2015 lawsuit against former President Barack Obama’s order protecting millions of undocumented immigrants from immediate deportation.

The crackdown on immigrants could put an additional crack in the nation’s economy, if the mass deportations impact businesses dependent upon low-wage immigrant labor, such as restaurants, and the food processing and agricultural sectors. Immigrant labor comprises a disproportionate percentage of manual work in poultry plants in neighboring Scott County, as well as a significant portion of manual labor on local food farms. Significant raids on poultry plants or the farming industry could trigger an explosion in food prices.

A year without immigrants could do more than leave food rotting on the vine, however. Inflation-adjusted economic growth for the past decade has been a flat 2 percent, and independent economic projections for the next decade are just as soggy, with the Federal Reserve, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and others expecting annual growth of only 1.8 to 1.9 percent. This is due, in part, to the nation’s aging population. Immigrants coming to the nation are comparatively younger than the native population, however, and will reliably generate a taxable paycheck over the next two decades, at least. This marks a stark contrast to the aging, white population that is either close to retirement or already retired and generating little revenue—the same population that, according to polls, is more likely to oppose a pathway to citizenship.


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March on Mississippi


Canton, MS – March on Mississippi March 4,2017


March 8, 2017 – Under the industrial din of conveyor belts and humming machinery a lone figure will collapse. He will fall to the floor never to get up again. He will lay there unattended by medical personnel and, after a long, empty time, he will die. He will die there on the floor of the plant, his fellow workers and friends looking on from their stations with impotent fury. He will die there, but the assembly lines will not take notice and they will not stop.

This is not a tale of fiction. It is what happened on September 22, 2015 to Derrick Whiting, a Canton Nissan factory worker. It happened to him and it will happen again if Nissan does not change how it treats its workers. It will keep happening if Nissan’s workers are not given a voice.

On Saturday, March 4th these workers raised their voices and, buoyed by a choir of community, religious, and national leaders, these Mississippians marched to make their voices heard.


MS NAACP President Derrick Johnson, UAW Nissan Campaign Lead Organizer Sanchioni Butler marching to support Canton Nissan workers.

United States Senator Bernie Sanders, Congressman Bennie Thompson, Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, Actor Danny Glover, NAACP National President Cornell Brooks, One Voice, the MS State Conference NAACP, the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN), the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the General Missionary Baptist Convention, ACLU of MS, the MS Low-Income Child Care Initiative (MLICCI), the United Auto Workers (UAW), and many many more joined Nissan workers, local officials, civic organizations, church groups, and a wealth of other engaged community members marched in Canton to protest the campaign of intimidation Nissan has waged against their workers in retaliation to their desire to form a union to protect their lives and interests.

This is despite the fact the facility in Canton is one of two Nissan plants in the United States that does not have a union. In fact, all other Nissan plants across the globe are unionized. Our state laws discourage the formation of unions which proved to be one of the main reasons Nissan chose to build their facility in Mississippi.

As a right-to-work state, Mississippi is apathetic to workers and downright hostile to unions. The result is a state that creates a safe haven for businesses that thrive on the exploitation of its work force.

The Nissan plant in Canton is a fine example of this brand of corporate callousness.

There are those that say that Worker’s Rights are not the same as Civil Rights. However, many would find that position untenable when they discover that the workers at Nissan have been suffering under the corporate yoke of predatory car leasing, volatile and inconsistent work schedules, and eternal temporary employment status despite promises to the contrary. The effect of which has left its workforce in a perpetual state of economic insecurity and employment vulnerability. This is in addition to the physically hazardous environment endured by the workers. The facility at Nissan has been cited and fined for numerous and repeated OSHA violations since its opening. In that time, workers have been injured and workers have died. All because of Nissan’s established disregard for its workers’ basic human right, their Civil Right, to work in the safest environment possible and to be able to speak freely against substandard treatment without fear of retribution. Acknowledging this, the French Parliament spoke out, as a shareholder, against Nissan’s treatment of its workers on its 2016 visit to Mississippi.

And when workers began talking of their desire to form a union to protect their rights and their interests, Nissan actively moved to opposed them, routinely engaging in acts of intimidation and retaliation against its workers including a closed circuit broadcast of an anti-march commercial shown to all workers to discourage their participation.

It did not have the desired effect.


NAACP President Cornell William Brooks stands with Canton Nissan workers.

Some will point out that Nissan brings millions of dollars to the State, but that doesn’t make what it does to its employees right. It only makes it profitable.
As a last ditch effort, on the day of the March, Nissan sought to disrupt their workers’ attempt to organize by closing the plant in the hopes that, desperate for a day off after excessively long schedules, workers would stay home and not stand against them.

As it turned out, Nissan was wrong.

Saturday’s March on Mississippi happened because our families, our neighbors, and our friends, the workers at Canton Nissan are being mistreated and abused by a plant that puts profits before people.

They deserve better. Mississippi deserves to BE better.

The alternative is a state that offers nearly unlimited power for employers, and little to no protection for employees, tax exemptions for businesses, and lack of job security for workers. The alternative is a state where an employer can fire an employee at any time for any reason (excluding the few federally protected classes), but an employee isn’t guaranteed equal wages for his or her equal work. The alternative is a state boasting lower wages overall and a greater gender-wage disparity than the national numbers as right-to-work states, like Mississippi, earn on average 3.1% lower wages than their non-right-to-work counterparts.

The alternative is a state were women still only earn 77% the income of males for the same work and African American women earn even less at an average 55% that of white males.

All Mississippians deserve to work in a state were both their labor and their rights as people are valued.

Today the fight is with Nissan, but the mistreatment of any one of us is a mistreatment of all of us. And the fact of the matter is WE DESERVE BETTER.

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NAACP Calls for Moratorium on Charter Schools

August 17, 2016 – The NAACP unveiled strong new resolutions at its national convention in Cincinnati.  One of its loudest was a demand for a nationwide halt on new charter schools.

The NAACP has been opposed to charter schools for two years, but this year organization delegates voted for an outright moratorium on privately managed charter schools, after acknowledging what they consider to be numerous civil violations by charter schools’ privately appointed boards.

“Charter schools have contributed to the increased segregation rather than diverse integration of our public school system,” claims the NAACP’s 2016 resolution, which was voted on and approved in July.

Delegates agreed that charter schools have the ability to pick and choose their students through “disproportionately high use of punitive and exclusionary discipline,” which tosses out underprivileged students who don’t perform as well as affluent youth do on some tests and helps give charter schools an unfair performance edge over public schools in test scores.  Delegates also agreed that, unlike public schools – which MUST accept even problem students – charter schools can boost enrollment of high-performing students with more stringent entrance requirements.

Critics often use the tiered charter school system in New Orleans as an example.  The University of Minnesota Law School Institute on Race and Poverty issued a 2010 report revealing that in 2009, 87 percent of all white students in New Orleans attended the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) or Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) charter schools, while only 18 percent of African Americans and Latinos attended those same schools.  Instead, 75 percent of African-American and Latino students attended the Recovery School District (RSD) schools that same year.  Nearly all RSD schools qualified as high-poverty schools, while the OPSB and BESE sectors contained the lowest shares of high-poverty schools.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, LatinoJustice, and the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College argue that the most effective tool of separation that charter schools use is standardized testing.  Louisiana education consultant and researcher Raynard Sanders told the MSNAACP in 2013 that he shared that view.

“Standardized tests as a means of measuring student success don’t work well because it is such a narrow measurement process.  It’s just a snapshot, really,” said Sanders.  “By using that instrument of measurement, you hurt students who don’t do well on it, not because they don’t have the ability, but because they have limited resources in their lives, mostly related to poverty.  They don’t do so well on standardized tests.”

Sanders said that he was also familiar with charter schools’ punitive and exclusionary discipline.

“Once the kids are in the school, you may have to commit to 100 hours a year of volunteer time, or pay extra fees, or any number of conditions,” said Sanders.  “Let’s say you’ve got a parent working two jobs and you can’t meet those conditions.  You end up with a very select group of kids, rather than the kids who are most challenged.  The schools are doing the choosing, not the parents.”

Mississippi, which has a decades-long problem with school segregation, now has laws making it easier to open charter schools in the state.  Lawmakers passed the Charter Schools Act of 2013, which diverts public money to charter schools through two funding streams: ad valorem tax funds from local school districts and per-pupil funds from the Mississippi Department of Education.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a July 11 suit seeking to close the existing charter schools and stop any more from opening.  The suit, representing seven Jackson Public Schools parents, argues that charter schools violate the state constitution by forcing cash-strapped school districts to share meager property tax collections with charter schools that they neither supervise nor control.

“Traditional public schools,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “will have fewer teachers, books, and educational resources.  These schools will no longer be able to provide Mississippi schoolchildren the education that they are constitutionally entitled to receive.”

The suit explains that the funding provisions of the Charter Schools Act of 2013 cost JPS school­children “more than $1.85 million in state per-pupil funding and ad valorem tax revenue in the 2015-2016 school year alone.”  That JPS money could have otherwise funded 42 teacher salaries, 18 new school buses, guidance counselors for 6,870 students, or vocational education programming for 6,672 students.

Currently, two charter schools, Reimagine Prep and Midtown Public Charter School, are operating in Mississippi.  Both schools are located within the boundaries of the Jackson Public School District.  A third school is slated to open inside the JPS district either this year or next year.  The Southern Poverty Law Center argues that JPS could lose up to $4 million during the 2016-2017 school year because of these three charter schools.

The Mississippi NAACP is in accord with the National NAACP’s July statement supporting the suit.

“The landscape of public education has room for new ideas,” state NAACP President Derrick Johnson said.  “However, innovation must not come at the expense of our state’s traditional public school system.  We must endeavor to improve our public education system, not destroy it.”


Source: MS NAACP State Conference

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Money Woes Mount Under GOP Super-Majority

August 17, 2016 – In a state already laboring under severe deficits, Mississippi’s Republican super-majority continues to implement deep budget cuts, the latest of which directly threaten some of Mississippi’s most vulnerable citizens.

“I’m very concerned about the plight of the poor, who are the first to suffer,” said Jackson Rep. Kathy Sykes.  “It may not hit everybody at first, but it is coming.  Poor people are the canaries in the coalmine.  We’re the first to suffer, and then it tends to spread.  The shame is that a lot of the folks who are or will be affected are the same people who voted for these elected officials who are insensitive to their plight.  This should be a wake-up call to all Mississippians that they need to hold all of us accountable.”

A Department of Revenue document reveals that the state generated $887.8 million less than anticipated by revenue estimates from April 2015.  Critics like Sykes and Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, say multiple tax cuts during the last four years of Gov. Phil Bryant’s term are a major contributor to the slow revenue.

The Sun Herald reported that Bryant and the legislature approved more than $300 million in tax breaks and credits, including a $126 million reduction in business inventory taxes, as well as alterations to the state’s method for calculating business taxes.  Added to those cuts are multiple sales tax breaks for developers, as well as a series of “tax-free holidays.”

Despite the fact that the tax giveaways were driving down revenue, Bryant quickly signed yet another tax cut this year — one of the biggest in the state’s history — amounting to nearly $415 million in revenue loss over the next 12 years.  The tax cut created by Senate Bill 2858, which is now law, not only destroys the state’s franchise tax, but also reduces personal income taxes paid by individuals.  And while the new law eliminates more than $400 million in revenue, its benefits to individual taxpayers are marginal.  Under the law, the state will exempt the first $10,000 of earnings from state income tax.  Mississippi residents earning $16,000 or less will only save an average of $14 a year, while those earning more than $150,000 will save about $270 annually.

Even though Bryant made two separate mid-year budget cuts and the state raided the Rainy Day Fund for $45 million while managing to grab a massive one-time payment from a Mississippi Attorney General’s Office settlement, the slashed revenue has forced legislators to revise revenue estimates downward twice just since April 2015.  As a result, nothing could stop the state from going into June with about a $200 million shortfall.

More recently, Mississippi legislators voted in a June special session to allow the governor to raid the state’s “Rainy Day” cash reserves of another $50 million to cover the shortfalls.  While Republican legislators killed bills tapping the same reserve to fully fund education or Medicaid in previous sessions, they held no such reservation drawing on the $350 million fund to cover tax cuts.

Despite the Rainy Day raid, the state is still facing a series of cuts in valuable programs affecting the disadvantaged.  Many Mississippi community colleges, which serve middle- and low-income students, now have to raise fees as state college funding has fallen by $5 million this year.  Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, for example, is looking at a 20 percent hike in tuition fees, while Hinds Community College will go up about 4 percent.

The Mississippi Library Commission, which offers education and internet service to many low-income or poverty-level people, now faces lay-offs, reduced hours, and possible closures as it contends with $1 million in cuts.

Making matters worse are about $8.3 million in cuts to the state’s mental health system, resulting in the closure of about 100 beds at Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield and East Mississippi State Hospital.  The cuts will also result in the elimination of special instruction services to almost 130 mentally ill children up to age 3 at Ellisville State School, and the closure of Male Chemical Dependency Units at MSH and EMSH, offering prison as the most likely substitute for addiction-related problems.

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves offered his particularly chilling motivation behind the painful cuts, saying the various mental health programs weren’t curing anybody.

“… we have programs we’re spending money on that aren’t working,” Reeves told online news organization Mississippi Today. “You should have asked the Department of Mental Health:  The program they’re shutting down, 750 patients they had last year, how many of those have repeated a similar program either in the Department of Mental Health or outside the Department of Mental Health?”

Reeves’ opinion runs counter to professional opinion that many forms of mental illness cannot be cured so much as treated, often requiring a lifetime of medicine or therapy.

Sykes said some Republicans who voted in favor of the tax cuts regretted their decision to support these efforts, but were powerless to vote any other way.

“In private conversations with some of my Republican colleagues, they are getting concerned about the pressure they’re feeling to vote a certain way.  The moderates, in particular, are really beginning to express concern,” Sykes said.  “They’re told to toe the party line, and they can’t be sensitive to the needs of their own people.  They’re powerless.”

She would not name any of the “moderate Republicans” because she feared the label, itself, would work against them in their next primary.  She, like other Democrats, complains that Bryant is a lame duck plodding through his last term, so he can afford to ignore the pain of his own voters, and he can use his campaign war chest to influence other elections by “primarying” Republicans who do not do what they are told.

“That’s why (GOP) moderates can’t adopt an open stance on issues that bother them,” Sykes said.  “This really isn’t democracy anymore.”


Source: MS NAACP State Conference

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Anti-Union and Out of Compliance at Nissan

August 17, 2016 – Non-union workers at the Nissan manufacturing plant in Canton have complained for years about safety hazards and long, irregular working hours.  In June, they got some validation on one of those complaints from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which found multiple and repeated safety violations on the factory floor.

Like most car manufacturing plants, some areas on the assembly line contain pits in the floor that provide workers easier access to vehicle undercarriages.  Federal safety guidelines require these pits to have guardrails or covers to protect workers from accidentally plummeting to the bottom of the nearly-10-feet-deep concrete hole.  OSHA inspectors cited Nissan last October for precisely that problem after a worker toppled in and hit the unforgiving concrete.  Compounding the lack of a guardrail or cover, the absence of a safety net at the pit led the employee to suffer severe injuries that required hospitalization.  A fall this February caused yet another employee to be hospitalized.

This repeat violation earned Nissan a $25,000 penalty.

Other worker complaints led to similar OSHA citations at the plant for its failure to keep walkways and aisles free of oil, water, or similarly hazardous liquids.  While a slip and fall at home can be a dangerous prospect, a fall at a car factory with its sharp metal edges and hard, concrete floor can be very serious indeed.  The federal organization noted that Nissan had committed floor hazard violations in five separate locations and hit them with the maximum penalty of a $7,000 fine.

Nissan employee Travis Parks, who installs airbags and steering wheels, said he did not believe the penalties would have been needed if Nissan employees had a real voice regarding work environment and work practices prior to the OSHA investigation.

“In this plant, the workers have to go by what the company says, and a lot of times that’s not the best we can do to protect the workers.  There’s so much more we could do that we are not able to do now because we don’t have a contract,” Parks said.

Employees at the facility have attempted multiple campaigns to unionize the plant over the years, but have had to do so while battling anti-union sentiment from management and staunchly anti-worker Mississippi politicians.  Full-time employees claim plant managers have committed to hiring “pathway” workers – workers hired under temporary employment that supposedly can lead to full employment, but rarely does.  These “pathway” workers, supplied in droves by temp agencies, allow Nissan to avoid filling many positions with the full-time staff that would require full-time benefits and protections.  However, reliance upon temporary workers undermines the promises company leaders made to state government in the years preceding plant construction, promises that they would bring stable, high-paying jobs to the area in exchange for millions of dollars in tax breaks and government investment.

Management has complete control over this army of temporary workers and may fire them with only minor inconvenience.  For this reason, the temp workers remain powerless and fearful, often rejecting unionization attempts for fear of angering management.  The United Auto Workers union stalled recent attempts to hold an official vote due to lingering employee anxiety over management blow-back.  In the meantime, workers still report unsafe conditions particularly during assembly line speedups and problems with overtime and long shifts.  Workers also complain that without unionization, management neither has to clear sudden schedule changes nor give employees time to make family arrangements.

University of Mississippi journalism professor Joe Atkins, an organized labor advocate, said the OSHA violations are not a surprise, considering the lack of communication that traditionally plagues employees and management in a non-unionized environment.

“Some things just don’t happen in a non-unionized environment, and it makes things dangerous for everybody.  Consider that when there is an injury on the job they have to clear this injury with medi­cal personnel at the plant, but the medical personnel is usually not a doctor.  It’s usually a nurse practitioner, who tends to say ‘things are okay.  Just get back to work.’  So we have a few examples coming up in Canton of injuries on the job that were not treated properly onsite before transporta­tion to the hospital, so they became more serious once they got to the hospital,” Atkins said.

Atkins said that unions “help keep people honest” in these situations, primarily because unions want what management wants: a productive workforce that’s healthy and enjoying its job.

Nissan officials deny putting any anti-union pressure on workers, even though employees say they have endured multiple anti-union one-on-one meetings with managers.  French and European offi­cials find Nissan’s claim to be dubious at best.  More than 30 French and European policymakers demanded Renault-Nissan remain neutral in union organizing efforts in Canton, and a member of the French Parliament visited Mississippi recently in an effort to push the company to stay out of the union argument.

However, Nissan officials turned French Parliament leader Christian Hutin away from the plant last month, claiming the French officials had no scheduled appointment.  Hutin and French representatives are involved because the French government has an ownership stake in Nissan’s business partner, the Renault Group, which owns 42 percent of Nissan.

Currently, the push to unionize the Canton plant has been visible in Brazil as union supporters protest Nissan as a sponsor of the Olympic Games.


Source: MS NAACP State Conference

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NAACP Press Statement: HB 1523 Found Unconstitutional

2016/07/01 – The Mississippi State Conference NAACP applauds the ruling issued by U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves on the true nature of H.B. 1523, deceptively named “Religious Freedom” law, as unconstitutional. H.B. 1523 was an attempt to legitimize discrimination and superimpose the rights and beliefs of some citizens over the rights and beliefs of others. “That is not how our society, how our state, or how our Constitution works,” stated President of the MS State Conference NAACP Derrick Johnson.
The court’s decision exposes the weak justifications and insidious purposes of the law. The law, by its own language and intent, sought to force a whole class of Mississippians into a second-class citizenship. Though plainly targeting the LGBT community in an attempt to win-back perceived lost ground, H.B. 1523’s sweeping language of discrimination also attacked single parents and any sexually active, unmarried adult making any of these citizens punishment-free targets for discrimination.
“The opinion and order issued by Judge Reeves rightfully condemns the State’s attempt to legislate hate and discrimination,” stated Johnson. Just as a person’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” were not found to be an adequate justification for past legislative discriminatory acts regarding race or gender, the “Religious Freedom” law and its purported reasons are also insufficient and ring hollow under any scrutiny.“There will always be someone who feels differently, thinks differently, believes differently than you,” Johnson said. “When that happens, it is not the state of Mississippi’s job or place to take sides. That’s what H.B. 1523 called for. It was a law designed to tell some Mississippians that my beliefs are worth more than your rights.”

Source: Mississippi State Conference NAACP

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Decades Later, Mississippi is Still Burning

2016/06/27 –

In 1964, the brutal slayings of three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, rocked the country. Their deaths cast a spotlight on the horrific violence and injustice already known by those who lived in the state of Mississippi.

In 1970, 18 members of Mississippi’s Ku Klux Klan were federally indicted for violating Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner’s civil rights. Of the 18 men indicted, only seven were found guilty, and none of those seven spent more than six years in prison. Despite the heinousness of the crime, the state of Mississippi chose not to pursue any murder charges.

What Mississippi did choose to do was create the very weapon that enabled the murders to happen. In 1956, the Legislature created the State Sovereignty Commission “to prevent encroachment upon the rights of this and other states by the federal government.” The rights they were speaking of were equal protection under the law for African-Americans — more specifically, the right to vote for African-Americans free of barriers and intimidation and the rights of an equal and integrated education.

To achieve its goals, the Sovereignty Commission and its spies and agents told the Klansmen what road the civil rights trio would be traveling and when. In these gruesome slaying and others, a man may have pulled the trigger, but it was the state of Mississippi that provided the gun.

After nearly 30 years of indifference and silence, the case was reopened. Still, it took six years before the instigator of the murderous plot, Edgar Ray Killen, was charged with three counts of murder; however, he was only convicted of three counts of manslaughter.

Other known conspirators were alive at that time, but no others were indicted, and the state’s collusion in the murders was never even considered.

Now, in 2016, Mississippi has chosen to close the case. There will be no further investigation into the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. The reason given for this closing is that it is unlikely that further investigation would result in any other prosecutions.

But at least one known conspirator is still around today and has yet to be held accountable. That conspirator is the state of Mississippi.

The tragic and senseless murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were made more famous with the motion picture “Mississippi Burning.” Although many civil rights veterans disagreed with the depictions of the hero, it was an appropriate title then and it has not lost its relevance today.

Because Mississippi still burns.

The fire did not begin in 1964. The sparks were born much earlier, and the embers have smouldered much longer than that. Even in 1817, at Mississippi’s birth, the fire was there, and its flames have constantly been stoked with racial hatred, inequities and terrorism. In the recent past, this fire has been fueled by burning crosses and firebombs, all under the Confederate symbol that still exists on the state flag today. While today’s accelerants do not light up the night, they still serve the same purposes of evil.

Mississippi still burns.

The current flames of hate still burn brightly as Mississippi, in defiance of reason and even in defiance of the sister states who have in the past stood proudly in the well of racism, Mississippi chooses to keep a symbol of racial hatred on its flag. Mississippi chooses to honor those who fought against the United States and fought for the right to own other human beings. Mississippi chooses to underfund education while teaching a, quite literally, white-washed history, according to which the white Citizens Councils weren’t “all that bad” and in which Confederate history doesn’t involve the mention of slavery or treats it as “no big deal.”

Hatred still sears. Intolerance still singes. Discrimination still scalds. Racism still scorches, but now indifference feeds these flames and the blaze grows higher. Indifference keeps the Confederate battle emblem on Mississippi’s flag flying over this state. Indifference has closed the case on the Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner slayings. Indifference has caused over 50 years of inaction and injustice for the dozens, maybe hundreds of others who died by racist violence. Eight bodies of African-American men were found while the FBI searched for Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, but where was their investigation? Where was the national outrage over their deaths? Where was their justice?

The state of Mississippi bears as much blood on its hands as any of the men who killed Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner, and the named and nameless others who fell victim to racist violence. Mississippi has closed this case, but the larger case will never be closed until the state is held accountable for its part in this crime.

Until that day, Mississippi will still burn.

James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and the many, many others whose names are not known, whose faces are not pictured, whose full justice is still denied deserve more than just a nod of acknowledgment and a rueful shaking of a head. Their cases should not be closed, and their causes must not be forgotten because when we do that we fan the flames of this Mississippi burning.


Source: Derrick Johnson, Guest Columnist


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Sheriff Teaming Up with Unions to Offer Occupational Opportunity to Felons

2016/06/12 –

Hinds County Sheriff Victor Mason told the crowd at a recent “Take A.C.T.I.O.N Jackson Community Meeting,” sponsored by the Jackson Branch NAACP, that he was moving forward with the creation of a new education program for youth offenders and non-violent offenders.

“I’m working on a new prisoner re-entry project that promises more than just letting people go and then locking them up again when they make another mistake,” Mason told the audience at M.W. Stringer Lodge, in Jackson. “Young people who make mistakes need a way to re-enter society with skills that give them a stable income and no need to turn to crime. There’s no incentive to break the law if you earn a comfortable income and have a plan for life.”

Mason said he has not widely touted the incoming program because of the complexities involved in assembling a re-education package, but he said he has high hopes that it can come together.

Despite media and Hollywood fantasies, a large percentage of crime is unglamorous and economics-based. It’s less about thrills and malevolence and more about disadvantaged people looking for a way to put food on the table or pay bills. Mason said youths are more commonly prone to commit crime, due to economic problems and woefully underdeveloped judgement skills. Numerous socio-economic think tanks, such as the Brookings Institute, support his opinion.

Number of Offenders in the United States, by Age and Offense, 2012

Number of Offenders in the United States, by Age and Offense, 2012 (Source)

Underprivileged youths, having few economic prospects in the form of affordable education, affluent connections, or even reliable adult guidance, face a future containing a dismal minimum wage of slightly more than $7 hourly. A standard theory behind property crime is that the attractiveness of alternatives to crime—which likely includes a rotten minimum wage for hard, greasy work and long hours—is extremely low. For teens living in poor neighborhoods and facing such a depressing future, the prospect of property crime or illegal substance distribution becomes comparatively attractive. Couple these economic factors with the consistent risky behavior common to all youths, both poor and affluent, and you’ve got a high potential for incarceration, according to the Brookings Institute.

Once a youth stands before a judge, his or her potential for spinning out of control increases exponentially. In many cases, a criminal record, no matter how non-violent, means an instant lock-out for many well-paying and stable careers. From then on, a wayward youth is more liable to face a life of miserable instability that only exacerbates the problem.

Mason says he wants to offer an alternative to that, and he’s turning to local unions to de-rail disaster. The sheriff has been making overtures to John Smith, manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) to tweak a pre-existing union training program to give young felons valuable career skills that will ensure a lifetime of well-paid work and stability.

“We’ll be having some meetings with the sheriff and we’re working towards this, even though we can’t confirm if it’s a go just yet. We already have an apprenticeship program for younger guys that have had a little brush with the law, and we believe in giving folks a second chance,” Smith told the MSNAACP. “The jails are full of folks with non-violent offenses. They get in the system, and then they got conflict behind their name and they’re behind the eight ball after that.”

Smith said he agrees with Mason that poverty is central to the city’s crime issue.

“In the poorer parts of the state, in the inner cities, folks are just trapped. They’re stuck and they can’t get out and the only way to make a buck or get something to eat is to steal or sell something illegal. Then, if they get caught, they’re stuck in the revolving door of the prison system.”

The IBEW just recently sorted through its yearly selection of program trainees. The training program currently requires applicants to be a high school graduate or have a GED, and have at least one year of high school algebra under their belt, as well as reliable transportation.

Smith said most building and trades unions offer similar training programs. The IBEW program is five years long. Enrollees go to school one night a week from August to June 1, but it costs them no tuition. All they pay for is their books and their hand tools, their tool pouch and work boots and work clothes, since they are required to work in the field.

“Most of our jobs start at seven o’clock in the morning. We take a young man with zero experience, and give them a career. If you get through the program, there’s no way you won’t have a good job,” Smith said. “We have an agreement with contractors around the United States. People depend on us supplying them with labor, so our job placement is the highest around. You’re basically married to a job.”


Source: MSNAACP Writers