Newswire: Mississippi campaign heats up after ‘Lynching’ Remark’

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent@StacyBrownMedia

 Mike Espy

It’s a campaign that flew quietly under the radar – though the outcome could not only make history but change the dynamics in the United States Senate. Down in the Delta – where the public lynching of African Americans was the rule and not the exception and the Ku Klux Klan was usually law enforcement, judge, jury and executioner – Mike Espy, a Black man, has forced a runoff against Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith. As stunning as Espy’s rise in one of the classic “Good Ole Boys” states, Hyde-Smith, perhaps in a fit of desperation or a time lapse, helped to shine the spotlight on the race that had taken a back seat to the historic runs for governor in two other southern states, Florida and Georgia. “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” Hyde-Smith said as she was surrounded by cattle rancher Colin Hutchinson and other supporters at a gathering in Tupelo. Hyde-Smith later tried to walk back the inflammatory comment, saying “In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement. In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.” If the comment was an exaggerated expression of regard, many in the one-time civil rights hotbed — and many more from across the nation — didn’t see it that way. It not only ignited interest in the under-the-radar Senate race, it galvanized Espy’s supporters. “Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith’s shameful remarks prove once again how [President Donald] Trump has created a social and political climate that normalizes hateful and racist rhetoric. We’ve seen this in Florida from Ron DeSantis and others during this election season and denounce it,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement. “Hyde-Smith’s decision to joke about ‘hanging,’ in a state known for its violent and terroristic history toward African Americans is sick. To envision this brutal and degenerate type of frame during a time when Black people, Jewish People and immigrants are still being targeted for violence by White nationalists and racists is hateful and hurtful,” Johnson said. According to the NAACP, Mississippi had 581 lynchings between 1882 and 1968, more than any other state. The state’s population has the highest percentage of African-Americans of any state, 37 percent according to the last census. “Any politician seeking to serve as the national voice of the people of Mississippi should know better. Her choice of words serves as an indictment of not only her lack of judgement, but her lack of empathy, and most of all lack of character,” Johnson said. Senator Hyde-Smith’s remark that she would “be on the front row” of a “public hanging” is repulsive and her flippant disregard for our state’s deep history of inhumanity tied to lynching is incensing,” said Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. “What is worse is her tone-deaf justification for the comment,” said Lumumba, who’s African-American. The ACLU of Mississippi released a statement calling Hyde-Smith’s comments “Despicable and abhorrent.” “We expect and demand that Mississippi leaders represent and remain committed to inclusion and diversity. Sitting senators should not be referencing public hangings unless they are condemning them,” The ACLU’s statement said. Espy himself weighed in. “Cindy Hyde-Smith’s comments are reprehensible. They have no place in our political discourse, in Mississippi, or our country,” Espy said. “We need leaders, not dividers, and her words show that she lacks the understanding and judgment to represent the people of our state.” The race for the Senate out of Mississippi has grown in its importance since election day. With the Democrats taking control of the House, the party has continued to narrow the majority in the Senate. After a stunning victory in Arizona by Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, and Rick Scott’s win in Florida after a recount, Republicans hold a narrow majority of 52 to 47, with the Mississippi election to determine the final result. Espy once served as agriculture secretary under Democratic President Bill Clinton and, in 1986, he became the first African-American from Mississippi elected to Congress since Reconstruction. Born in Yazoo City, Mississippi, Espy received a B.A. from Howard University in 1975 and then attended law school at the University of Santa Clara where he received his J.D. degree in 1978. Espy returned to Mississippi after law school and worked as an attorney for Central Mississippi Legal Services from 1978 to 1980, according to blackpast.org. Between 1980 and 1984 Espy served as assistant secretary of the Public Lands Division for the State of Mississippi and then took the post of assistant State Attorney General for Consumer Protection, a position he held until 1985. The following year Mike Espy won the 2nd Congressional District seat which included much of the Mississippi Delta, becoming the only black Congressman to represent a predominately rural district. Now, Espy is trying to unseat Hyde-Smith, whose comments have those outside of Mississippi rallying for him as the runoff approaches on Nov. 27. “North Mississippi and Memphis are connected at the hip,” said Corey Strong, the Shelby County Democratic Party Chair in Memphis.“We are looking at potentially having a day of action for members of Shelby County and a concerted effort to go down and support Mike Espy in that race,” Strong said.

Newswire : Mike Espy to receive Witherspoon Award at Federation’s 50th Annual Meeting celebration

Mike Espy
Mike Espy

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund will celebrate its 50th. Annual Meeting on August 17 to 19, 2017. The organization was founded in 1967, by 22 cooperatives and credit unions, arising from the Civil Rights Movement, serving low-income farmers and rural people in the South.
On Thursday evening, August 17, Attorney Mike Espy of Jackson, Mississippi will receive the 16th annual Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award at a fundraising banquet at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Interstate 495 in Birmingham. Estelle Witherspoon was the Manager of the Freedom Quilting Bee in Alberta, Alabama and a founding member of the Federation.

Mike Espy served as the first Black Congressman from Mississippi since Reconstruction, from 1987 to 1993. In 1993, President Bill Clinton selected him to be the first African-American and the first Secretary of Agriculture from the Deep South. Today, Espy heads the Mississippi office of the law firm of Morgan and Morgan and was involved in the Pigford Black Farmer Discrimination lawsuits against USDA.

Espy has worked closely with the Federation in all of his professional pursuits. As a Mississippi Congressman he co-sponsored the “Minority Farers Rights Bill” and helped to get several of its major components, including the Section 2501 Outreach Program, into the 1990 Farm Bill. As Secretary of Agriculture, he worked closely with the Federation on the efforts to bring greater civil rights concern to the department. As a lawyer, he worked closely with the Federation and our members on the Pigford lawsuit.

On Friday and Saturday, August 18 and 19, the Federation’s Annual Meeting will shift to the organization’s Rural Training and Research Center, near Epes in Sumter County. Friday will be a day of workshops, presentations and celebration of the Federation’s half century of work and achievements on behalf of Black farmers and landowners. Friday evening there will be a fish-fry, wild game tasting and other dishes from the regional membership of the Federation.

On Saturday, the Federation will hold a prayer breakfast followed by the organization’s business meeting, which includes reports from the Board of Directors, Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director, and state caucuses of the membership.

Cornelius Blanding said, “For five decades, the Federation has served its membership of Black farmers and other low income rural people across the South. We have held true to our mission and worked at the grassroots level to transform people and communities, many times in the face of racial hostility and economic exploitation, to win a better future with social and economic justice for our membership. I am proud to be part of the continuing legacy of the Federation and hope to lead it into the next half century of progress.”

Persons interested in attending the Estelle Witherspoon Awards Banquet and the 50th Annual Meeting should go to the organization’s website at www.federation.coop to register. Information is also available from the Federation’s offices in Atlanta (404/765-0991) and Epes, Alabama (205/652-9676).

Obama cuts sentences of hundreds of drug offenders

 

By Kevin Liptak, CNN White House Producer

   president-barack-obama   

President Barack Obama on Tuesday, January 17, 2017 reduced or eliminated the sentences for hundreds more non-violent drug offenders.

The move brings Obama well beyond his most recent predecessors, who used their commutation powers more sparingly. He’s now reduced sentences for 1,385 individuals, the vast majority of whom are serving time for crimes related to distribution or production of narcotics.

 

Many of those whose punishments he’s reduced were incarcerated for crimes involving crack cocaine, which came with mandatory sentences that were longer than those for the powdered version of the drug. The discrepancy — a facet of a decades-long war on drugs — overwhelmingly affected African-Americans.

 

Obama had hoped for legislation to permanently end the disparities in sentencing laws. While an unlikely group of activists have pushed in Congress for a bill that would alter mandatory minimums and reform the prison system, a rancorous political climate during last year’s presidential campaign prevented progress.

 

Instead, Obama encouraged Americans serving lengthy terms to apply for clemency, prompting a flood of applications to his Justice Department. A group of legal aid groups established the Clemency Project to help screen applicants and complete the required paperwork.

 

An onslaught of requests required Obama’s aides to establish a process for vetting applications, which began backing up in the Pardon Attorney’s office.

At the beginning of 2017, 13,568 petitions for clemency were still pending. The Obama administration has received more than 30,000 petitions over eight years.

 

The power to grant pardons and commutations is written into the US constitution as one of the president’s clearest unilateral prerogatives. With large batches often coming in the final weeks of an administration, an act of clemency cannot be challenged in court or overturned by Congress.

 

President George W. Bush granted 189 pardons and 11 commutations, including reducing the prison term for I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators in the probe of the leak of the name of a CIA operative.

 

President Bill Clinton issued a flurry of pardons on his final day in office, including for financier Marc Rich and the president’s half-brother Roger Clinton. In sum, Clinton ordered 396 pardons and 61 commutations.

 

No recent commander-in-chief, however, has used the powers as liberally as Obama to enact a criminal justice reform agenda. Writing in the Harvard Law Review earlier this month, Obama said his push toward eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and offering clemency to non-violent drug offenders was informed by his own history.

 

“This is an effort that has touched me personally, and not just because I could have been caught up in the system myself had I not gotten some breaks as a kid,” Obama wrote, recalling meetings at the White House with recipients of his clemency grants who had turned their life around.

 

“By shifting the narrative to the way clemency can be used to correct injustices in the system — and reminding people of the value of second chances — I worked to reinvigorate the clemency power and to set a precedent that will make it easier for future presidents, governors and other public officials to use it for good,” Obama wrote.

 

While President-elect Donald Trump has yet to detail his planned use of clemency powers, there’s little optimism about criminal justice reform advocates that he’ll continue Obama’s efforts. Trump ran on a “law and order” platform, though rarely addressed issues of clemency or sentencing on the campaign trail.

 

“I’m looking at various predictors to try and decide where he might go. He wants to make America safe again. We know based on data that locking up low-level offenders won’t make America safe,” said Jessica Jackson Sloan, the national director and co-founder of #cut50, a group committed to reducing the US prison population by half. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be surprised,” Sloan said.