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Opinion

Letter to the Editor: Justice for Pastor P

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The following is a letter to the editor. The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Vicksburg Daily News. 


The Editor
The Vicksburg Daily News
March 21, 2020

Dear Sir:

In recent weeks a trial took place in Warren County and the outcome of that trial should cause anyone with a backbone or inkling of common sense to question the jurisprudence in this county. I am referring to the case against Troy Piccaluga, the former Pastor recently found guilty on one count of statutory rape and one count of sexual battery of two minors and sentenced to 55 YEARS in prison. Murder convictions can carry less time! The only truth to this circus of an investigation and trial is that Pastor Piccaluga was railroaded by a corrupt and incompetent justice system. The case against Mr. Piccaluga was not based on physical evidence, supporting facts or solid proof but rather hearsay, social outrage and political ambition. In our world today concrete evidence is no longer needed when two young girls accuse a pillar of the community of such atrocities. We rush to judgement based on a he said/she said narrative and almost always lean in favor of the minors, never questioning if it just might be possible that those minors have a motive or agenda to hurt someone they feel has wronged them. Such a rush to judgement provides the perfect storm to destroy lives, especially when that judgement involves a socially, emotionally and politically charged allegation rarely questioned by society. Allegations that elected officials might see as certain victory in an election year. I am certain District Attorney Smith could better answer that question given his case was based on NO DNA recovered from the locations cited as crime scenes. Or perhaps Sheriff Pace could answer the question as to why his department did not present cell phone records from any of the parties involved, or any other viable evidence for that matter. Or why Mr. Piccaluga was charged with statutory rape of a minor when your paper printed that one of the girls was 16 years of age – the age of legal consent in Mississippi? The only evidence the Warren County Sheriff’s Department did provide was a recorded conversation between one of the minors and Mr. Piccaluga in which the Sheriff’s Department recorded a phone conversation, without Mr. Piccaluga’s knowledge and encouraged the minor to make false statements in an attempt to entrap Mr. Piccaluga. We could also ask Judge Terrett why she did not allow professional witness testimony on behalf or Mr. Piccaluga or why a twice-hung jury was “encouraged” to reach a verdict the very night the trial ended? Shouldn’t the jury take all the time they need to decide on a verdict? These are just some of the items that should be questioned regarding this entire miscarriage of justice. We could also bring up the mental health history of all parties involved, or the prior allegations made by one of the victims in her previous state of residence. I do realize these things are not admissible in a court of law as they would not pertain to this particular case but to be unequivocally fair, any actual evidence in the case against Mr. Piccaluga was not admissible courtesy of the Good Ole Boys Club of Warren County. I would urge all residents of Warren County to take a long, hard look at the true events of this case and take heed as your sons, brothers or fathers could easily become a victim under this charade of a justice system.

I welcome anyone to email me at justice4PastorP@gmail.com if they too feel Mr. Piccaluga has not received his due process or would like to share information that proves he has been denied due process. I would especially be interested in hearing from the jurors from this trial. All correspondence will remain confidential.

Awaiting Actual Justice,
Heather O’Neal
Maryland

Opinion

You can go for a walk

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Our new reality is mind blowing, but here we are. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

As with any new rule, there are a lot of misunderstandings and questions, so, let’s clear a few things up. First off, you can go for a walk. Just keep your distance from others. The whole idea behind “social distancing” is to not spread the virus if you have it but don’t realize it. The time between contact and symptoms can be as long as 14 days, during which you could be contagious.

You can live your life fairly normally so long as you understand how serious this pandemic is and why we are going through this period. Social distancing is not a quarantine. It is a “keep your distance.”

The disease is going to spread, but by practicing social distancing, we reduce the numbers infected at any one time and possibly slow the pace of new infections. That slowing is is “flattening the curve” to avoid sudden, peak numbers of critically ill patients that will overwhelm our health-care system.

A sample epidemic curve, with and without social distancing. (Image credit: Johannes Kalliauer/ CC BY-SA 4.0)

Right now, in Italy, they are facing the consequences of not reacting quickly enough to this pandemic. Their health care system is overwhelmed. There are simply not enough hospital beds, doctors, nurses and medicines to deal with the number of people who are sick. If we don’t take social distancing seriously, our health care system in America will face the exact same reality.

None of us want that. None of us want to hear that our elderly loved one with heart disease is not going to be treated for this virus because they need the hospital bed for someone with a greater chance of surviving.

But that will happen here if we don’t follow the rules put in place to keep us safe. Following social distancing rules will slow the spread of the virus between people and thus slow the number of people in the hospital at any one time. Being treated for this virus is way better than not being treated for this virus.

The rules are to keep about 6 feet between yourself and others while you are out. A curfew has been put in place from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. in Vicksburg. That curfew will allow first responders the opportunity to minimize the number of people on shift and give them the authority to question anyone out during those hours. That should help all of us sleep easier.

Restaurants will have no dine-in option and only offer to-go plates and curb service. Liquor stores, nail and hair salons and any place where the public gathers may have no more than 10 people—customers and staff—in the building at any one time.

Funerals have been limited to 50 people maximum and can only be held at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The city has made its auditorium available for funerals to allow for social distancing.

If we don’t follow these rules and people congregate and the disease spreads, we will be put in quarantine. None of want that.

Enjoy a walk. Go for a ride. Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer, keep a social distance and please, please don’t spread rumors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html) and the Mississippi State Health Department (https://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/_static/14,0,420.html) should be your main go-to websites for real and credible health information.

Let’s do what Vicksburg always does when faced with a crisis. Let’s work together to minimize the rapid spread of the virus and protect the most vulnerable in our community.

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Opinion

Finding our siege spirit again

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I wrote the first story about COVID-19 for the Vicksburg Daily News on Feb. 1. It seems like years ago, but it’s been less than seven weeks.

Instinctively, I knew this was going to be bad, and as I followed the announcements from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they continued to reinforce my thoughts about the disease. Still, sometimes I felt I was overwhelming readers with too much information, even as most of our readers ignored it.

Comparing the statistics from Feb. 1 to today is a frightening experience of some truly ugly math.

On Feb. 1, the number of cases in the world was about 12,000 and 249 deaths. Today, it’s 20 times that with more than 244,000 cases and 10,000 deaths. Deaths have increased by a factor of 40.

Back then, the U.S. had a whopping total of seven cases and no deaths. Today, we have nearly 14,000 cases and more than 200 deaths. I’ll let you do the scary math on those numbers.

Mississippi announced its first death yesterday.

It announced its first case of the virus a week ago, and today, we have 80 cases.

Like so many states, we lack the resources to do a lot of testing. On Thursday, some 600 Mississippians had been tested out of a population of nearly 3 million. That’s scary math, too.

Every state in the country has now confirmed COVID-19 cases, the majority in New York State, Washington State and California.

Let me be perfectly clear: COVID-19 is a killer, and this pandemic is very likely to get much worse before it gets better.

We’ve all seen the finger pointing about who’s to blame for the spread of the virus in the U.S. Under dire circumstances, it’s natural to want to find someone to blame, and politicians of all political stripes are playing the blame game to maximum effect. It’s not useful.

Our economy and that of the world are in danger of crashing despite the big piles of money being thrown their way.

Friends and neighbors are closing their businesses or being laid off from jobs that our recently booming economy seemed to promise would last forever.

We’ve all seen the stories by now. Some of us are so panicked that we’re buying every last roll of toilet paper in every store as if all that fluff will insulate us from this disease.

So what can we do that will make a difference now?

First and foremost, we have to start taking this seriously. Some folks are still denying there’s a problem, or worse yet, poo-pooing the facts and ignoring the advice of foremost medical authorities. That’s not helpful.

WHO, the CDC and the Mississippi State Health Department have all put out guidelines on hygiene and behavior to prevent the spread of infection. Pay attention.

Among them are what’s become known as social distancing, creating distance between you and every other person. Short of a flat-out government-mandated quarantine, social distancing has shown to be one of the few effective ways to stop the virus’ transmission. Don’t congregate in groups. Avoid people who are ill. Stay home if you’re sick. Work at home if possible.

We also know that many people can’t afford to stay home from work ever, and to that end, the federal government is stepping up to provide emergency funds for those affected. When the checks will arrive, how long they will last and how long they’ll be needed is anyone’s guess. Help a neighbor who needs help.

For those with resources, it’s tempting to use unexpected time off as vacation time. Resist the urge. This isn’t the time to spend more time with friends and distant relatives, head to the beach or have the gang over for a basketball game in the driveway and barbeque on the deck. Take this seriously. Take responsibility.

Many folks in Vicksburg have stepped up to make a difference in this time of need. We applaud them. This is a time when we need a few heroes, even shy, unlikely ones. We want to continue to bring you those stories.

For our patrons who are continuing to advertise with us, thank you. Those dollars will help us continue to do our work.

The internet is one resource that will be fully utilized to provide information, but don’t fall victim to rumors. Verify before you share.

During World War II in Great Britain, people in London and across the country were getting bombed every night during the Blitz. Some 32,000 civilians died and 87,000 were severely injured. During that time of scary math, from September of 1940 to May 1941, people pulled together to help their neighbors. The “blitz spirit” surely has some myths surrounding it, but the bombings galvanized the people of Great Britain like little else. Britain did not surrender to its enemy.

Vicksburg experienced its own siege during the Civil War, of course, and the city is no stranger to finding the spirit of survival. Thousands of soldiers on both sides died during that siege, and civilians took to caves and eating God knows what to survive. But survive they did.

It’s time to find a little of our personal “COVID spirit.” The circumstances of this siege are vastly different, but each of us must take responsibility to find it within ourselves to face this disease—not with fear and finger-pointing, but with calm, clear-eyed and science-informed action.

At some point, this disease will abate. A vaccine will be developed. The economy will recover. Most of us will survive, even if the world may be much changed by then.

It’s up to each of us to turn our characters toward that light and do the right thing now, even if it’s inconvenient, expensive or hard. Our futures may well depend on it.

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Opinion

The next few weeks will determine the next few months

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Photo by David Day, Vicksburg Daily News

Unprecedented in our lifetimes is the best way to describe the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The actions of the world, along with our federal, state and local governments is something I’ve never seen and probably—hopefully—will never see again.

During 911 in 2001, we saw similar actions for about three days. It was unusual to look up in the sky and not see any jet contrails. I remember the eerie feeling of calm that everyone possessed and how we all knew we would get through through it together.

Our behavior over the next couple of weeks will determine how we’ll live our lives over the next couple of months. What we do now, and how seriously we take this pandemic now, may determine if this crisis be over in a couple of weeks, a month or many months.

The request from our government is to minimize social activity and congregate only in small groups of 10 or fewer people. To get our food to go and to avoid large crowds for a couple of weeks is for our own good.

Please take this pandemic seriously.

Please consider that there are those who are at serious risk of dying from this virus, particularly those over 65 and those with weak immune systems. Help your neighbor.

Stop panic buying and hoarding food and day-to-day necessities. It only makes everyone more afraid.

In Vicksburg, when the going gets tough the tough always get going. Our community has never let us down in the past, and I don’t expect it will let us down this time, either.

Volunteers and local organizations have come together to feed people. Schools are feeding people and even sending school buses to students’ homes.

We are a great community. We always come together in times of difficulty. There’s no doubt in my mind that this will be one of these times.

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