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A UM professor skipped work to protest racial inequality. State auditor says he should be fired.

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Mississippi State Auditor Shad White (Photo by Amile Wilson, Stage Directors & Choreographers Society - The uploader on Wikimedia Commons received this from the author/copyright holder via photosubmissions (OTRS)., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86582091)

State Auditor Shad White said this week the University of Mississippi should fire JT Thomas, a sociology professor who participated in a two-day “work stoppage” last week.

Thomas, an outspoken professor who has regularly drawn the public scorn of top statewide Republican elected officials, participated in a national walkout on Sept. 8-9 called the “Scholar Strike,” in which hundreds of faculty at universities across the nation protested police brutality and other racial inequities. Thomas called it a “work stoppage” on Twitter.

White, a Republican and noted alumnus of the University of Mississippi, wrote a Monday letter to university leaders arguing that Thomas had broken the state law — state employees are explicitly barred in state law from striking — and that the university should pursue termination. The letter was first reported by The Clarion Ledger.

In addition to firing Thomas, White said that the university should recoup Thomas’ salary for the two days he did not work. Agents from the auditor’s office visited Thomas’ home last week to ask about the strike.

“It is my responsibility as auditor to ensure that no public money is illegally spent,” White told Mississippi Today. “Strikes and concerted work stoppages are illegal in Mississippi. Mr. Thomas cannot be paid for the days he did not work. Also, the penalty for striking is termination. The law is the law. He cannot act as if he is above the law.”

Thomas did not offer comment for this article. University leaders had not publicly commented by Wednesday mid-morning.

Thomas has been the subject of public scrutiny in the past. After conservatives called into question a tweet of Thomas’ last year, the state’s college board took the unprecedented step of considering whether to grant Thomas tenure in a closed-door meeting. Then-Gov. Phil Bryant weighed in, suggesting Thomas shouldn’t receive tenure. The board ultimately granted Thomas tenure, but conservatives made Thomas the poster of progressive ideals at the university.

Attorneys and professors on Wednesday morning are publicly raising questions about whether Thomas’ two day “work stoppage” would even qualify as a violation of state law. In a tweet, Thomas suggested he hadn’t completely skipped work on Sept. 8-9.

“100 percent of my job requires time spent thinking. Thinking before writing. Thinking while writing. Thinking before teaching. Thinking while teaching. If I’m thinking I’m working,” Thomas tweeted on Sept. 13.

Mississippi state law specifically forbids teachers from striking. A strike is defined in statute as “a concerted failure to report for duty, a willful absence from one’s position, the stoppage of work, a deliberate slowing down of work, or the withholding, in whole or in part, of the full, faithful and proper performance of the duties of employment, for the purpose of inducing, influencing or coercing a change in the conditions, compensation, rights, privileges or obligations of public employment.”

READ MORE: Background of Mississippi’s strict law that forbids educators from striking.

Mississippi teachers went on strike for the first and only time in 1985 during Democrat Gov. William Allain’s tenure. Teachers participated in walkouts and picketing to advocate for a $3,500 raise, the New York Times reported at the time. The wildcat strike, which ended with more than 9,000 teachers walking off the job in March 1985, resulted in a $4,400 pay raise granted by the state Legislature, according to Education Week.

Though the strike yielded results, it came with harsh consequences — threats of fines and jail time. The labor law currently on the books came as a direct result of those demonstrations.


This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Vicksburg Police Department recognizes three officers for acts of heroism

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Left to right: Deputy Chief Penny Jones, honoree Officer Russell Dorsey, Chief Milton Moore, honoree Officer Mathew Barnes, Deputy Chief Bobby Stewart (photo by Thomas Parker)

At a ceremony Tuesday morning, the Vicksburg Police Department recognized three officers for acts of heroism.

Officers Africa Hunter and Matthew Barnes were awarded the Police Cross while Officer Russell Dorsey received the department’s top honor, the Medal of Valor. The officers were lauded by Police Chief Milton Moore and Mayor George Flaggs Jr. for going above and beyond the call of duty.

Dorsey joins Deputy Chief Bobby Stewart as the only active medal of valor recipient. Stewart and former Officer Greg Kurtz and Sgt. Jon Carter were awarded medals of valor for rescuing an infant on Royal Street from a burning structure in 2000.

Barnes was recognized as the departments “Top Cop” earlier this year by Central Mississippi Crime Stoppers. That award was before the incident for which he was recognized Tuesday.

Moore credited Capt. Michael Bryant with recommending the officers for these honors. He and Mayor Flaggs quoted scripture as they praised the officers. Flaggs said he hoped this would lead to recognizing officers on at least a quarterly basis for their good works. In an impassioned speech, he called on the community to support the department.

VPD provided details on the acts that led to the officers being honored:

Chief Milton Moore presents Officer Russel Dorsey with the Medal of Valor (photo by Thomas Parker)

Officer Russell Dorsey (Hire date Feb. 4, 2009. Assigned to Traffic Division)

On Monday, March 11, 2019, Officer Dorsey responded to a house fire on Howard Street. When he arrived, the house was already fully involved with flames visible. He learned from neighbors that the 68-year-old resident was still inside. Dorsey stepped onto the front porch and saw the resident inside the house, trying to exit through the front screen door, which was locked. The resident turned and walked back into the house.

Dorsey picked up a hatchet that was laying nearby and used it to chop through the door. He entered the house, looking for the resident, and located him in the living room. As Dorsey tried to reach him, part of the ceiling fell in at the rear of the house, and the structure filled with thick smoke. Officer Dorsey stepped back outside to draw a quick breath then reentered the burning house. He found the resident down behind a chair in the living room. Grabbing him by his collar, Dorsey pulled the resident out of the house to safety.

Officer Africa Hunter (Hire date Nov. 2, 2009. Assigned to B-Watch.)

On Saturday, July 18, 2020, Officer Hunter was dispatched to a local motel on a welfare check. The sister of a guest had called 911 to report that she had not heard from her sister and was concerned. Hunter tried to make contact with the guest, but no one answered when she knocked on the motel room door. She asked the desk clerk to unlock the door for her and when the door was opened, she found the 50-year-old female lying unconscious on the floor. Hunter checked the woman for a pulse and respiration but found none. She notified dispatch to send an ambulance and began performing cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. The victim responded and began to breathe on her own; however, she again stopped breathing so Hunter repeated CPR, which she continued until Vicksburg Fire Department emergency personnel arrived. The victim was again revived and transported to Merit Health River Region.

(Officer Hunter was unable to attend today’s ceremonies and will receive her award when she returns to duty.)

Police Chief Milton Moore presents Officer Matthew Barnes with the Police Cross. (photo by Thomas Parker)

Officer Matthew Barnes (Hire date May 11, 2016. Assigned to D-Watch. K-9 Officer.)

On Friday, July 24, 2020, Officer Barnes was dispatched to the area of Cherry and Clay streets in reference to a vehicle blocking the intersection. The driver of the vehicle had become disabled due to a medical emergency and lost unconsciousness. When Barnes arrived, he found the car in the middle of the intersection, engine running, with all the doors locked. The driver was in obvious distress and did not respond to Barnes’ calls to wake her. The unconscious driver began to press the accelerator, causing the car to advance further into the intersection. Along with bystanders, Barnes attempted to hold the vehicle in place. With the vehicle steadily moving and the occupant in need of medical attention, Barnes made the decision to break out a window. He told the bystanders what he was going to do and said that he needed a heavy object. A hammer was provided, and Barnes used it to shatter the window of the driver-side rear door. He then entered the vehicle through that door, put the vehicle in park and turned off the engine. Vicksburg Fire Department emergency medical personnel arrived, and they were able to get the driver out of the vehicle and into the ambulance. She was transported to Merit Health River Region for treatment.

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Sheriff Pace eager to move forward on new jail

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Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace (File photo by Thomas Parker)

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace asked Warren County supervisors Monday morning for their concurrence on rescheduling a planned tour to look at jails that are similar in design to what Warren County hopes to build.

The tour was originally scheduled for this past spring, but plans were shelved after the outbreak of COVID-19. Pace said the tour would include Desoto and Tate counties in north Mississippi and Garland County in Arkansas. Pace said he had spoken to officials in Tate County and the Arkansas facility and was waiting to hear back from Desoto. He added that the facilities were all on lock down due to COVID-19, and there would be minimal risks posed by the tours.

Warren County grand juries for at least two decades have recommended replacing the current jail. Grand jurors tour county owned facilities, meet with elected officials and department heads, and make nonbinding recommendations for suggested changes and repairs to county properties and agencies.

The previous board of supervisors acquired a 47-acre tract of land on U.S. Highway 80 in June 2018 at a cost of $400,000. The property, located at 1134 Highway 80, was home to the former Pinewood Motel, which has been abandoned since 1979. The county had the remaining structures demolished and a pond on the property drained in 2019.

The Voorhis/Robertson Justice Services Group, based in Denver, Colorado, prepared a comprehensive study in 2010 that recommended a facility that would house around 350 inmates. Pace said this would allow space for misdemeanor and pretrial felony prisoners along with state inmates who could participate in community work programs. Due to state statute, inmates in these classifications cannot be housed together in the same area of a correctional facility.

Supervisors instructed Pace to proceed with planning the tours. No date has been set as of this writing. Pace said Tuesday that with four new supervisors and a new county administrator, he is back to square one on educating them as to what is needed and why it is imperative to move forward with a new county jail.

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COVID-19

Vicksburg Warren School District reports four new COVID-19 cases

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The Vicksburg Warren School District is reporting four new COVID-19 cases for the week of Oct. 19 through Oct. 23, 2020.

Additionally, 22 students, teachers and staff are under new quarantines due to possible exposure in the same time period.

The following schools reported new cases and quarantines:

Academy of Innovation
1 new positive case – student
5 quarantined – students

Bowmar Avenue Elementary
2 new positive cases – teacher/staff
1 quarantined – teacher/staff
13 quarantined – students

River City Early College
1 quarantined – student

Warren Central Intermediate School
1 new positive case – teacher/staff
1 quarantined teacher/staff

Central Office Staff 
1 new quarantined – staff

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Vicksburg
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Light Rain
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Wind: 5mph N
Humidity: 95%
Pressure: 29.99"Hg
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