Response to guilty pleas from Rankin County deputies

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By Constance Slaughter-Harvey

JA Guest Writer

As I read the complaint filed January 31, 2023, USA vs. McAlpin, Middleton, Dedmon, Ward, Opdyke, and Hartfield which was filed by U.S. Attorney Darren J. LaMarca, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clark (former Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL) executive director, and Christopher J. Perras, my heart missed several beats.  I wanted to pinch myself because I thought I was dreaming. How is this possible? Am I misreading or is this real? Are these officers actually pleading guilty? What is the deal? Is this the real Rankin County – the County where Rev. John Perkins, Tougaloo College students, William Miller, Jimmy Harvey, and other Black men were brutalized in 1970, simply for pursuing the constitutional rights guaranteed all American citizens? 

My heart hurts and aches for the families of these young men, Michael Corey Jenkins and Eddie Terrell Parker, who were brutalized by officers “under the color of law.” My anger and pain re-surfaced as I read and re-read these allegations (facts). Unfortunately, I mentally revisit the terrible atrocities of the civil rights era.

I am thankful to God that I have lived long enough to see that justice has finally been realized, albeit  fleeting, and that these Rankin County law enforcement officers are now held accountable for continuing the age-old tradition of “Ku Klux Klan” tactics and practices against Black persons. Praise God!!!

This is the county where Chancellor L. B. Porter threatened me in the courtroom and called me a “N—–” in May 1970. At that time (five months after graduating from the University of MS School of Law) I represented 22 young African American students who were jailed with hardened criminals for protesting and staging a walk-out after requesting permission to honor and celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

I filed a motion in federal court to remove the case against these students because they would not be able to receive a fair trial in Rankin County. As a semblance of professional courtesy, my LCCRUL chief counsel, George Peach Taylor, and I appeared before Chancellor Porter to advise him that he no longer had jurisdiction over these students. As I stood to make that announcement (rising but not yet standing), he said, “N—– if you get out of that chair, I will have you arrested.” He then turned to the sheriff, Jonathan Edwards, and said, “I’ll order you to arrest her.”  Looking at the students, I paused as I was almost out of my seat, and saw Jim Harvey signaling me to sit, and heard George Taylor telling me, “Please sit down because when you are arrested, who will get these children out of jail. (I was the only LCCRUL lawyer licensed to practice in MS at that time.) 

With tears in my eyes and cosmic anger in my heart, I sat down. I have never forgotten that day nor that feeling which smolders beneath the surface to this day.

Several other cases involved Rankin County officials including the arrest of Bobby Jolley in December 1971, who was thrown through a plate glass door when he tried to integrate a local eating establishment in Pelahatchie. He was charged with disturbing the peace and when we represented him in Justice Court, the Justice of the Peace (JP) responded to our contention that our client was denied basic constitutional rights, stating: “This is Rankin County, not the United States.”  Initially, we (Nausead Stewart and I) laughed until we realized he was serious. Not only was Mr. Jolley found guilty, but no action was taken for the cruelty he suffered. We appealed to the Rankin County Circuit Court and lost!

The defendants in this case have perpetuated and demonstrated a culture of evil and injustice that has existed in Mississippi and this country for generations. Despite the efforts made by very brave, determined people to change that culture in Rankin County and the country, it persists. 

The present Rankin County sheriff has said he is committed to reviewing and changing department policy to prevent a repeat of this kind of atrocity. As citizens we can hope, but we also have a duty to hold public officials accountable for their actions, inactions, and the actions of those who report to them. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (John Stuart Mill; Edmund Burke). We must all be concerned and ever vigilant. 

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Response to guilty pleas from Rankin County deputies

By Jackson Advocate News Service
August 14, 2023