The Scott Sisters’ release and Mississippi racism
Published Jan 5, 2011 4:17 PM
Also see: Scott Sisters will be free
The anti-racist movement celebrated an important victory when it was announced
on Dec. 30 that the prison sentences of Jamie Scott and Gladys Scott would be
suspended by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
The Scott Sisters, who are African American, have spent 16 years of their lives
at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility for the “crime” of
taking $11 from a convenience store in December 1993. At the time of their
arrest, Jamie was 22 years old and Gladys was 19 years old and pregnant. Two
African-American youth, who admitted taking the money, stated at the Scott
Sisters’ trial that they falsely implicated the sisters in order to
receive a reduced sentence.
This testimony did not stop the Scott Sisters from being found guilty and
sentenced to life in prison in 1994. Neither sister had a prior arrest record
nor did any violence take place during the so-called robbery. They are now 38
and 36 years old, respectively.
Courts have turned down appeal after appeal. When the sisters first entered
prison, they were healthy women. Due to inhumane prison conditions, including
the lack of nutritious food and inadequate health care, one of Jamie
Scott’s kidneys is failing. The prison has denied her regular dialysis
treatments, inaction that could have resulted in her death. Gladys Scott has
offered one of her kidneys since Jamie is in need of a transplant.
How did the sisters find out about Barbour’s announcement? Did the
governor’s office contact the sisters directly? No. Gladys Scott found
out while looking at the news. Their mother, Evelyn Rasco, got the news when a
reporter called her at her home in Florida.
Before the Dec. 30 announcement, any demands that the sisters be pardoned were
ignored by the governor and the Mississippi Parole Board. Bob Herbert, the
African-American op-ed writer for the New York Times, wrote two columns last
fall in support of the Scott Sisters. He pointed out cases of prisoners who had
been convicted of murder being pardoned or paroled in Mississippi.
Many demonstrations held throughout the state in support of the Scott Sisters
have been led by the Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights;
Southern Human Rights Organizing Conference activists; Chokwe Lumumba, a lawyer
for the sisters; and others. In June 2010 Mississippi protesters traveled by
bus to Washington, D.C., to demand that the Department of Justice put pressure
on Barbour to release the sisters. Support from NAACP National President Ben
Jealous and comedian-activist Dick Gregory, along with Herbert’s columns,
have helped to bring national and international attention to the racist
injustice suffered by these two women.
Mississippi: a modern-day plantation
Barbour made it clear in his Dec. 30 statement that he was suspending the
sisters’ sentences, not pardoning them, because he wanted to avoid having
taxpayers pay $200,000 annually to sustain Jamie on dialysis.
A pardon would have led to an almost immediate release of the sisters. In fact,
one of the main conditions for the suspended sentences is that Gladys Scott
will have to give one of her kidneys to her sister, which she has already
offered to do. It has not been determined what will happen if Gladys is not a
match for her sister or if Jamie’s body rejects her sister’s
Activists say that the release of the sisters could take another 45 days or
more under the rules of this suspension. The parole board stated as of Jan. 3
that they have not received any orders to release the sisters.
Nowhere in Barbour’s speech did he say that the sisters suffered a
travesty of justice, nor did he apologize for their ordeal. Rather than even
trying to sound remorseful, Barbour’s statement was dripping with racist
contempt for the sisters and dismissive of the hellish nightmare they and their
family have dealt with for more than 17 years. Some commentators say that
Barbour wants to use the Scott announcement to help clean up his image in order
to make a run for president in the 2012 election.
Barbour’s racist attitude should not come as a shock to anyone. It
reflects Mississippi’s racist history. Jaribu Hill, executive director of
the Mississippi Workers’ Center, told Workers World, “Governor
Haley Barbour is cut from the same cloth as [Alabama Sheriff] Bull Connor and
former Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett.”
Mississippi is a modern-day plantation and Barbour is its main slavemaster. It
is the poorest state in the U.S., with a high rural poverty rate and overall
underdevelopment, especially for Black people, who are affected in highly
The legacy of slavery continues in Mississippi with countless lynchings of
young Black men, like Emmett Till in 1955 and Frederick Jermaine Carter, who
was founding hanging from a tree in Greenwood, Miss., on Dec. 3.
In a Dec. 20 interview with The Weekly Standard, Barbour heaped praise on the
pro-segregationist White Citizens Council, which, along with the fascistic Ku
Klux Klan, terrorized the Black community in the South, mainly by using
economic intimidation to reinforce segregation at the height of the Civil
Rights Movement. When asked about the Civil Rights era, Barbour stated,
“I just don’t remember it as being that bad.” (The
Clarion-Ledger, Dec. 21)
While Barbour gives credit to the WCC for integrating schools in his hometown
of Yazoo City, Miss., Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi chapter of
the NAACP, refutes that notion: “If you look at Yazoo City, their
approach to integration was very similar to other communities across the state,
where the parents pulled their children out of the public school system so
white children would not have to attend an integrated school system. They
established a private segregated academy which still exists today.”
(Huffington Post, Dec. 20)
It is within this historical and social context that the progressive movement
should not rest until the Scott Sisters are finally released. As Herbert stated
in his Dec. 31 op-ed column, “The Scott sisters may go free, but they
will never receive justice.”
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