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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 12/31/10

Righting an Ugly Wrong: Compassion or Crass Politics

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Message Linn Washington

The verbal gaffe by a potential presidential candidate who praised a group that supported racial segregation played a role in righting one of the most grotesque wrong's anywhere in America's justice system: two sisters serving double-life sentences for an $11 robbery.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour recently announced suspending the perplexing prison sentences of Gladys and Jamie Scott primarily on the humanitarian grounds of Jamie needing a kidney transplant.

In 1994 a Mississippi jury convicted the Scott sisters for a robbery on Christmas Eve the preceding year. The Scotts, according to police and prosecutors, lured two men into an ambush where three teens robbed those men of what records indicate was $11.

  Despite having no criminal record the Scott sisters received a double-life sentence for their roles in organizing the robbery.

  Mississippi law permits life sentences for robbery.

In contrast to the cruel sentence slammed on the Scott sisters, their alleged teen accomplices served less than three years in prison resulting from plea bargains given to testify against Gladys and Jamie Scott.

The Scott's always maintained their innocence.

Days before Gov. Barbour's action in the Scott's case he generated a national row for himself   when, during a news interview, he praised the white supremacist Citizen's Council in his Mississippi hometown contending it served as a force for good during the Civil Rights era because it opposed the KKK.

Those frequently violent Citizen's Councils, some bearing the distinctive title of White Citizen's Council, sprang up across the Deep South in the 1950s in reaction to substantial social changes sparked by the surge in civil rights activism and U.S. Supreme Court rulings striking down legal segregation notably the Brown v Board school desegregation decision.

The current incarnation of the old White Citizens Council, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center that monitors white hate groups nationwide, is the Council of Conservative Citizens which the Center's tags as "the largest white nationalist group in America."

There are eight Council of Conservative Citizens organizations currently operating in Mississippi according to Center data, compared to six in Alabama and three in Louisiana, the two states on either side of Mississippi.

News reports in the wake of Barbour's nostalgia about his hometown history detailed how the Citizen's Council members in that small town fired black employees for supporting a NAACP voter drive in the mid-1950s.

Apparently for Gov. Barbour the Council's economic strangulation of blacks seeking legal rights was far better than the KKK's physical terrorism.

Barbour's sentence suspending action calls for Gladys Scott donating a kidney to older her sister -" a request the younger Scott sister made in January 2010 when doctors diagnosed kidney failure in Jamie.

Barbour spokespersons who clarified that Gladys did not risk a return to prison if she's unable medically to donate a kidney continued stressing that Mississippi state government would not pay for the transplant.

Spokespersons said Medicaid could possibly pay for that transplant necessitated partly by poor medical treatment Jamie Scott received since entering the Mississippi prison system in 1994.

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Linn Washington is a co-founder of This Can't Be Washington writes frequently on inequities in the criminal justice system, ills in society and problems in the news media. He teaches multi-media urban journalism at Temple (more...)

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