Category: Lydia Chassaniol

When the Devil plays God

Byron De La Beckwith the younger

By Alan Bean

“The devil will sometimes play the part of God and let things happen.”  Byron De La Beckwith Jr.

The Jackson Clarion Ledger has published two articles stemming from an interview with Byron De La Beckwith Jr.  Byron II claims his father didn’t kill civil rights leader Medgar Evers in June of 1963. 

He said those behind Evers’ assassination belonged to the Citizens’ Council, which produced television shows in which “experts” declared that African-Americans were genetically inferior. He would not share the names of the men involved. He said they later joined the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, believed to be responsible for at least 10 killings in the 1960s.

 Jerry Mitchell reports that the FBI will be looking into De La Beckwith’s assertions, but I doubt new facts will emerge.  De La Beckwith, like his daddy, enjoys the limelight and intends to make the most of it.

More interesting, from my perspective, is Byron the Second’s description of his personal contribution to 1960s anti-civil rights terrorism and his sad reflections on the current status of the Mississippi Ku Klux Klan.  (more…)

Does Mississippi want a civil rights museum?

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (front left) walked in the funeral procession for Medgar Evers in June 1963. Evers was shot and killed in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Miss.
The funeral procession of Medgar Evers

Does the state of Mississippi really want a civil rights museum?

 
State Senator David Jordan, a black Democrat from Greenwood in Leflore County, certainly isn’t convinced. “It comes to a point that I don’t think Mississippi wants her history clearly told,” he told Byrd.
 
State Senator Hillman Frazier, a Democrat from Jackson, also has his doubts.  Governor Hailey Barbour initially embraced the idea of building a civil rights museum, but has done little to make it happen.  “It’s very frustrating when you’re visiting Memphis and Birmingham,” Frazier told the WP, “and they’re telling Mississippi’s history when we’re ground zero for civil rights.” (more…)

Racial resentment and the Mississippi mainstream

By Alan Bean

CCC Carroll AcademyThe Council of Conservative Citizens was founded in 1985 to: (1) defend white culture, and (2) raise money for financially strapped segregation academies. 

Trent Lott got into big trouble in 1998 when it leaked out that he had addressed a CCC fundraiser in Blackhawk Mississippi several years earlier. 

Doug Evans, the man who has taken Curtis Flowers to trial six times on the same evidence, was a regular on the CCC circuit in the early 1990s. 

State Senator Lydia Chassaniol (who is based in Mr. Flowers’ home town of Winona) is a proud member of the CCC and spoke to the organization’s annual conference in Jackson, MS in the summer of 2009. 

The Council of Conservative Citizens rose from the ashes of the old Citizens Councils which sprang to life in 1954 to oppose the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.  Alexander vs. Holmes County, the case that finally ended segregated public schooling in the South in 1969, was filed in the heart of Mississippi’s segregation academy belt.  If a county’s black population exceeds 20% in Mississippi you will find segregation academies. (more…)

Tim Wise: Obama’s post-racial road to nowhere

By Alan Bean

Friends of Justice believes in dragging “subtle” racism out of the shadows.  Our narrative campaign in response to the Curtis Flowers case, for instance, asserts that everyone associated with the prosecution of this case grew up in a Jim Crow world where black people like Fannie Lou Hamer could be tortured by police officers with impunity.  When Mississippi state senator Lydia Chassaniol delivered a keynote address to the proudly racist Council of Conservative Citizens, the regional media gave her a pass.  Her views, we suggested, were too mainstream to be criticized.   

Our approach flies in the face of the prevailing liberal doctrine of colorblind universalism.  When discussing public policy issues related to criminal justice, for instance, colorblind universalists make two claims: racism isn’t nearly as bad in 2010 as it was in 1963; and, white racial resentment is so strong that the case for criminal justice reform must be presented in strictly race-neutral terms. 

The logical contradiction here should be obvious: if racism has diminished so much, why should be so concerned about white racial resentment? (more…)

Mississippi parole board takes up the Scott Sisters case

Supporters of Jamie and Gladys Scott are beginning to believe that this legal travesty will soon be rectified. 

An October 12th column by Bob Herbert of the New York Times appears to have ruffled feathers in the Magnolia State.   Herbert suggested that double life sentences for a robbery netting $11 might sound ludicrous but “This is Mississippi we’re talking about, a place that in many ways has not advanced much beyond the Middle Ages.”

Will Herbert’s comments make the Mississippi Parole Board more or less likely to do the right thing?  According to an even-handed article in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, the attorneys and activists calling for justice in the Scott sisters case take a more hopeful view.

Is Mississippi captive to a medieval mentality? (more…)

Coming of Age in Mississippi

(This post is part of a series concerning Curtis Flowers, an innocent man convicted of a horrific crime that has divided a small Mississippi town.  Information on the Flowers case can be found here.)

The current flap about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 shows how complex and mystifying American conservatism can be.  Take John Stossel, for instance.  Color of Change, one of the groups involved in the Jena 6 movement, is trying to force Fox News to fire poor John for suggesting that private businesses should be free to discriminate.  According to Stossel, Southern businesses would have been happy to profit from black business if state law hadn’t mandated the color line.

Mr. Stossel can’t possibly believe his own rhetoric.  State governments enacted and enforced segregation laws because a racist public demanded it.  Businesses with a primarily white clientele turned away black patrons out of a concern for economic survival.  The first white Citizens’ Council was organized in Indianola, Mississippi in the wake of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.  Any move away from strict segregation was punished through economic boycott or, if that didn’t work, physical intimidation.

People living under this state-sponsored, public-sanctioned reign of terror had few good options.   Free-thinkers like Hodding Carter moved as far from orthodox racism as they could manage, but only a handful of white Mississippians endorsed full integration.  In the semi-feudal Mississippi of the 1950s, it was impossible for preachers, newspaper publishers, businessmen and politicians to stand up to this climate of fear and hate.  The only realistic course was to go with the flow.

Things weren’t much better, of course, in the rest of the South.

Confronted by the Solid South, the federal government could trump state law with sweeping civil rights legislation or they could go-along-to-get-along.  For years, presidents staggered back and forth between these two strategies.  Then the assassination of John Kennedy gave Lyndom Johnson a tiny window of opportunity.  Even so, it took all the arm twisting and temper tantrums Johnson could muster to ramrod the 1964 Civil Rights Act through Congress.

The entire conservative movement sided with the South.  The John Birch Society, Christian Reconstructionists, limited government people, free market fundamentalists, conservative evangelicals, the Daughters of the American Revolution–the entire movement in all its mind-numbing complexity stood foursquare for state’s rights, Jim Crow, segregated schools and the right of public and private institutions to discriminate against people of color.

Have conservatives ever made a clean break with the past?  Not at all.

The civil rights and voting rights acts of 1964 and 1965 were gradually accepted as established law.  Some conservatives adapted to the new world; others stood their ground.  A younger generation of conservatives tried to have it both ways.   They couldn’t ignore the fact that all their ideological mentors backed Jim Crow segregation, so they started re-writing history.

John Stossel’s distinction between racist politicians and a noble business community is but one example.  Rand Paul’s argument that only the government should be barred from discriminatory practices is another variation on the theme.

For ideological conservatives lie Rand Paul and John Stossel the actual past is an embarrassment, so they make up an alternate history.

The current dust-up over social studies textbooks in Texas is another attempt to make history safe for conservative white folks.  Now school children will read the speeches of a successionist Jefferson Davis alongside Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address without being told that one view is preferable to the other.  The righteousness of the civil rights movement (once a central tenet of American public orthodoxy) is no longer assumed.

If virtually every American conservative was on the wrong side of history in the 1050s and 60s, history must be altered.

Now there is no righteous civil rights movement confronting the Solid South; just different strokes for different folks.

The folks sponsoring the bogus prosecution of Curtis Flowers are doubtless relieved by these developments.  The formative years of District Attorney Doug Evans and State Senator Lydia Chassaniol (R-Winona) were shaped by a proudly racist orthodoxy (sorry, there’s no polite way of putting this).  The virtue of white supremacy and the vice of “race mixing” passed for common sence when Doug and Lydia entered the first grade and this orthodoxy reigned unchallenged when they graduated from High School in the mid-to-late 60s.

So long as the righteousness of the civil rights movement was trumpeted by network television, unreconstructed white Mississippians were in a difficult position.  The advent of Fox News came as a breath of fresh air.  Fox didn’t denounce the heroes of the civil rights movement, but the subject rarely came up.

It isn’t as if Doug and Lydia have been unaffected by the gut-wrenching change that has gripped Mississippi since they first went to school in the mid-to-late 1950s.

Senator Chassaniol copes by changing the subject.

Listening to Senator David Jordan challenge the bigotry implicit in the voter identification bill, Chassaniol told readers of her Clarion-Ledger blog that she had as much right to complain of bigotry as the next person–people of her gender had once been denied the vote.  “While it is possible to dwell on the inequities of the past,” she said, “it is better to focus on the potential of the future. The problems of the 20th century have been replaced by the real threats to our national security of the 21st.”

Noting the media’s lack of interest in Jesse Jackson’s desire to emasculate Barack Obama, Lydia asked why there had been such a big fuss when Trent Lott whispered to Strom Thurmond that America would be a better country if Thurmond, running 0n the racist Dixiecrat ticket, had been elected president in 1948:

The calm with which this has been reported pales in comparison to the coverage of the innocuous remark made by then Sen. Trent Lott several years ago at the 100th birthday party of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond. Sen. Lott didn’t threaten anyone, but merely wished an elder statesman a happy birthday and said things might not have been so bad if he, Thurmond, had been elected President over half a century ago. While we’ll never know if Sen. Lott was right about Strom Thurmond being elected President, we do know that no one was physically threatened by what he said, and yet, there was a maelstrom of media coverage condemning Lott.

Note the comment, “We’ll never know if Sen. Lott was right about Strom Thurmond being elected President.”  Here’s what Lydia is saying: “An America based on Jim Crow segregation [the heart of Thurmond’s Dixiecrat platform] may or may not have been good for America.”  This suggests that Senator Chassaniol is either a true-blue believer in Jim Crow segregation, or (more likely) she has never allowed the issue to penetrate her conscious thinking in any meaningful way.

This helps explain how she could tell the media, in essence, “I belong to an organization [the Council of Conservative Citizens] that is dedicated to white supremacy, opposed to inter-racial marriage, and wants to bar non-white immigration, but that doesn’t make me a racist.”

A racist, in Lydia’s lexicon, is someone who consciously hates persons on the basis of race.  Since she bears no personal animus to black people, she can’t be a racist.

Lydia Chassaniol was twelve years old when Fannie Lou Hamer was nearly beaten to death in the Montgomery County Jail.  That kind of race-based hatred is hard to find in 21st Century Mississippi.

How does the Senator deal with all of this?  She doesn’t, and she doesn’t have to.  The Mississippi media has learned to ignore embarrassing comments from elected officials that would raise howls of protest in other parts of the Union.

District Attorney Doug Evans doesn’t blog for the Jackson Clarion Ledger (or anyone else), so his views on race and racial justice are more difficult to discern.  Evans may be prosecuting Curtis Flowers for a record-setting sixth time  because he is a tenacious prosecutor who will go to any lengths to bring a guilty man to justice.  Or Evans may be prosecuting this case because he came of age in 1950s Mississippi and made the philosophical adjustments necessary to to the maintenance of security and sanity.

We know that Mr. Evans, like most central Mississippi politicians in the early 1990s, sought the blessing of the Council of Conservative Citizens and spoke at their public events.  There was nothing unusual about this.  Everyone was doing it.  It was the only way to get elected.

I suspect that Doug Evans, like Lydia Chassaniol, rarely dwells on the political upheavals that shaped his childhood and adolescence.  As a prosecutor representing the state of Mississippi, Evans is obligated to pursue justice in an open, fair and even-handed manner.  I suspect he takes this responsibility as seriously as reality permits.

Why then is Evans using bribed witnesses to prosecute a defendant lacking even the shadow of a motive?  How has this prosecutor convinced himself (and dozens of white jurors) that a single gunman could induce four victims to wait passively for their turn to be killed?   Everything we know about this crime suggests the involvement of two gunmen, but Mr. Evans doesn’t have two gunmen to prosecute, so he settles for Curtis Flowers.

I am not trying to demonize Mr. Evans and Ms. Chassaniol (although I could forgive them for thinking otherwise); I am trying to place their passionate pursuit of an innocent man in historical context.

In trial number fourm all five black jurors held out for acquittal.  This was a sure sign that Winona’s black residents weren’t buying the prosecution’s theory of the crime.

It is here that Doug Evans joins hands with Earl Wayne Patridge, the sheriff who ordered the beating of Fannie Lou Hamer.  Neither man is intimidated by black opinion.

Five reasons you should follow the trial of Curtis Flowers

(This post is part of a series concerning Curtis Flowers, an innocent man convicted of a horrific crime that has divided a small Mississippi town.  Information on the Flowers case can be found here.)

On June 7, 2010, Curtis Flowers becomes the first man in American history to go to trial six times on the same captial charges.  But why should anybody care?

If you get your news from conservative blogs and Fox News, the plight of a black murder suspect probably isn’t high on your list of concerns.   Curtis Flowers was found guilty by three separate juries, so he must be guilty, right?

If your taste runs to progressive politics you may have developed a mild interest in racial justice.  But who can keep up with all the horror stories?  After a while, compassion fatigue sets in.  Besides, criminal cases are so damn complicated–who has time to absorb all the details?

Now, DNA cases are another story.  They do the test, the guy is proven innocent, and you see him striding out of the courthouse sandwiched between jubilant attorneys.  DNA don’t lie, so the details don’t matter.  The state messed up–end of story.

This being the case, isn’t it best to give the DNA guys their half hour of fame and let the non-DNA folks fend for themselves?  Makes sense, right?

Actually, it doesn’t.

Only 10% of violent crimes involve the kind of DNA evidence that points unambiguously to guilt of innocence.

Since most jurisdictions don’t save physical evidence, ten years down the road there’s usually nothing to test.

So if you want to know how the system goes off the rails, and why it happens so often, you’ve got to wrestle with the Flowers case.  Here’s five good reasons to break down and pay attention.

1.   Post DNA advocacy must expose the mechanics of wrongful conviction, and it’s all on display in the Flowers case.  On May 23, 2010, the Dallas Morning News reported that “The flood of exonerations in Dallas County, where since 2001 more wrongfully convicted people have been freed through DNA testing than anywhere else in the nation, is slowing to a trickle.  There are only so many cases where genetic evidence is available to test . . . The emphasis of the conviction integrity unit established by District Attorney Craig Watkins in 2007 is shifting toward challenging cases where there is no DNA to test, but where questions remain about an inmate’s guilt or innocence.”

The Curtis Flowers case represents all the legal flaws that led to wrongful convictions in the 254 DNA exonerations America has witnessed since 1989. If you want to see how these cases would have looked in the absence of DNA, the Flowers case is exhibit 1. DNA exoneration cases have made it possible to pinpoint the mechanics of wrongful prosecution: the manipulation of eye witness testimony, the abuse of inmate snitch testimony, the use of junk forensic science, a blatant attempt to maximize the number of white jurors, and prosecutorial tunnel vision. The Flowers case involves flagrant examples of each one of these elements.

2. Like most instances of racial injustice, the Flowers case is 10% evidence, 10% law and 80% sociology.  Three cases have placed tiny Winona, MS on the media radar screen: the 1937 Lynching of two black suspects seized by a mob from the Montgomery County Jail with the cooperation of the Sheriff; the brutal beating of Fannie Lou Hamer and three other civil rights activists by the Sheriff and his deputies in 1963, and the precedent-setting case of Curtis Flowers: 1996-2010. The racial bias in the criminal justice system changed very little in the twenty-six years between 1937 and 1963; how much changed in the thirty-three years between the Hamer travesty in 1963 and 1996?

3. The Flowers case demonstrates the corrosive effect of extremist politics on the judicial system. People like prosecutor Doug Evans and Lydia Chassaniol, (the State Senator sponsoring a bill designed to increase the chances of conviction in the Flowers case) freely associate with leaders of the paleo-conservative Council of Conservative Citizens without apology or regret. Chassaniol is a proud member of the organization. The CCofC is the successor organization to the Jim Crow era Citizen Councils and has never retreated from the old segregationist orthodoxy. Consider Article 2 of their “Statement of Principles”:

“We believe the United States is a European country and that Americans are part of the European people. We believe that the United States derives from and is an integral part of European civilization and the European people and that the American people and government should remain European in their composition and character. We therefore oppose the massive immigration of non-European and non-Western peoples into the United States that threatens to transform our nation into a non-European majority in our lifetime. We believe that illegal immigration must be stopped, if necessary by military force and placing troops on our national borders; that illegal aliens must be returned to their own countries; and that legal immigration must be severely restricted or halted through appropriate changes in our laws and policies. We also oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called “affirmative action” and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races.”

Thus far, the press corps in Mississippi is either unaware of these affiliations or considers them unworthy of mention.

4. The Flowers case proves that a prosecutor always gets another chance, and another, and another.  The 1986 case Batson v. Kentucky established the principle that prosecutors are allowed to eliminate minorities from the jury using “peremptory strikes” so long as they can give a “race neutral” justification for each strike. In the third Flowers trial in 2004, District Attorney Doug Evans used all fifteen of his peremptory challenges to exclude African-Americans from the jury. Three years later, the Mississippi Supreme Court, after concluding that Evans violated the “Batson rule”, used unusually strong language in their concluding remarks:

“Because racially-motivated jury selection is still prevalent twenty years after Batson was handed down and because this case evinces an effort by the State to exclude African-Americans from jury service, we agree that it is “necessary to reconsider Batson’s test and the peremptory challenge system as a whole.” While the Batson test was developed to eradicate racially discriminatory practices in selecting a jury, prosecuting and defending attorneys alike have manipulated Batson to a point that in many instances the voir dire process has devolved into “an exercise in finding race neutral reasons to justify racially motivated strikes.” When Batson was handed down, Justice Marshall predicted that ‘[m]erely allowing defendants the opportunity to challenge the racially discriminatory use of peremptory challenges in individual cases will not end the illegitimate use of the peremptory challenge.’ As this case has shown, Justice Marshall was correct in predicting that this problem would not subside.”

If Doug Evans was guilty of gross racial bias during the voir dire phase of the third Flowers trial, why is he still prosecuting Mr. Flowers?  Why didn’t the Attorney General’s office take over the prosecution of this case the minute prosecutorial bias was confirmed?

5. The Flowers case shows how race trumps objectivity. In 1994, two years before the Tardy murders, Stephen Bright, Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia, criticized the unwillingness of jurists to admit the influence of racial bias in death penalty cases. “Some think racial discrimination is inevitable and impossible to prevent; others think the influence of race can be eliminated. The question must be answered, not avoided. If racial discrimination cannot be prevented, the death penalty should not be carried out. If discrimination can be eliminated, then it should be the highest priority of the courts. But to pretend that it does not exist, to deny a remedy, to deny even a hearing, is to give up on achieving the goal of equal justice under law. Tragically, that is what state and federal courts have done.”

In the 4th Flowers trial, all five African American jurors held out for acquittal while all seven jurors voted to convict.  Racial bias has dictated the outcome of all five Flowers trials?  But which side is getting it wrong, and why?