In addition to the “Rally for Justice,” the coalition is calling on the Adams County District Attorney’s office to investigate and charge deputies with excessive force.
“I’ve been in the City of Natchez for a complete weekend and as I’ve talked to Natchez residents and community leaders in churches, barbershops and even the Zydeco Festival,” said Rev. Williams in an exclusive statement to NewsOne. “It’s evident that the community at large feels that the Adams County Sheriff’s department has a history and reputation for performing rogue and brutal actions on residents and inmates. Therefore we will also set up meetings with the United States Department of Justice and Mississippi State Attorney General calling for intervention and investigation.”
Pernell-Simmons and members of NAN, the civil rights organization founded by Rev. Al Sharpton, traveled to Natchez on June 3 to throw support behind Glennese Smith Scott, 33, a social worker and author of the book, “Surviving A Thousand Deaths,” who is in the midst of an uphill court battle against the Sheriff’s Department for abuse — and negligence — she allegedly suffered at their hands that caused her to miscarry twins.
While protesting on the sidewalk in front of the Adams County Courthouse, in compliance with a city permit, Pernell-Simmons was told to move. When she refused, she was pushed to the ground and held down by two Black deputies, Charles Sims and Walter Mackel, while being Tasered by White deputy, Danny Barber.
“Don’t forget that some Africans sold us into slavery,” said Williams. “They use our own against us.”
“It is truly a disgrace how the Adams County Sheriff’s department turned a peaceful rally into something ugly and utterly violent,” said Jackson to NewsOne. “This was the point of the rally, to address [Scott's] mistreatment by this department and they did not fail to prove themselves worthy of their allegations.”
At an organizational meeting at King Solomon Baptist Church in Natchez on June 8, former Justice Court Judge Mary Lee Toles said that the charge brought against Simmons — “picketing that interferes with government buildings, property, streets and sidewalks” — was a remnant of the Civil Rights Movement when police tried to intimidate African-Americans into not protesting.
“There have been protests and marches since then, and that law has never been invoked,” said Toles. “My question is, ‘Why now?’ Because [NAN] was protesting misconduct by the Sheriff’s department.
“I want to know why,” Toles continued. ” And they need to answer to why.”
Phillip West, a civil rights activist and the city’s first Black mayor since Reconstruction, gave visiting NAN members a glimpse into Natchez history, and explained that this type of racist, corrupt behavior is not new to the oldest town in Mississippi:
“Natchez is the birthplace of Mississippi,” said West. “The Forks-in-the-Road was the second largest slave trading post in the South. We have more millionaires per capita than any city in the United States. This [kind of behavior] is not new… but coming together as a community we can end it.”
Community members interrupted the speakers at times to call for the firing of Sheriff Chuck Mayfield and for an overhaul of the entire Sheriff’s department.
Though West voiced the opinion that Mississippi law does not allow for a recall of elected officials, there is a recall law that has rarely been put to use:
The DJ Journal reports:
In Mississippi, statewide elected officials can be removed from office only if they are convicted of a felony – with some few exceptions. County officials, on the other hand, can be removed by the voters under a law the Legislature passed in 1956.
“I’ve never heard of it being used,” said Bubba Neely, a longtime Mississippi Senate attorney. “It’s so convoluted, I don’t know how it could be used.”
Under the provision, laid out across three dozen code subsections, the governor may remove a county official after a multi-phase process, which begins with the reasons for that person’s removal:
“Knowingly or willfully failing, neglecting or refusing to perform any of the duties required of such officer by law.” (Miss. Code ’72, Sect. 25-5-5.)
Listening to community members share horror stories about the Sheriff’s department, Rev. Williams said it sounded like “Klan talk,” but that a change was coming to Natchez:
“It says to me that maybe the South hasn’t changed as much as we think it’s changed. But we are going to make sure that we shed some light on this situation,” said Williams to reporters in Detroit.
“And Mississippi may still be burning,” Williams continued, “but we’re going to bring the water hose, we’re going to bring the fire truck, and we’re going to put this fire out.”
Rev. Williams told the small, engaged crowd at King Solomon that they reminded him of the true nature of the Civil Rights Movement:
“It was engaged crowds like this one, in churches like King Solomon, that changed the course of history,” said Williams. “…they didn’t think we could do it in Sanford [fighting for Trayvon Martin], but we did, and we can do it right here in Natchez.”
Pernell-Simmons, acknowledging that there is entrenched racism in Mississippi that may lead some citizens to remain silent, shared a story about seeing civil rights icon Rosa Parks in a Detroit grocery store in 1985, and how she let fear stop her from approaching her:
“I allowed fear to stop me from telling [Parks] how much I appreciated her sacrifice for justice,” said Pernell-Simmons. “The
y arrested her and if they had Tasers back then, they probably would have Tasered her too for not getting of the bus.”
We can’t let fear stop us from seeking justice.”
The meeting adjourned with four familiar, yet still powerful words:
“No justice, no peace.”
***The protest will be held June 10, 2013, in front of the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, 306 State Street Natchez, Mississippi, at 3:00 P.M. CST.
(Photo: Rev. Charles Williams II (center), President of NAN’s Detroit Chapter, speaking to reporters about the Tasering of Debra Pernell-Simmons, Vice-President of the Mississippi Chapter of NAN, by the Adams County Sheriff’s Department.)