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Rosa Parks statue unveiled in Montgomery

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Montgomery, Ala., city leaders surround the statue of Rosa Parks unveiled Dec. 1, 2019, 64 years to the day after Parks was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat to a white passenger. Photo from the City of Montgomery.

Montgomery, Ala., unveiled a statute of civil rights icon Rosa Parks on Sunday, Dec. 1.

The statue marks the site where Parks stepped onto the bus where she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger and was arrested. The unveiling commemorated the date of the incident: Dec. 1, 1955.

The city also unveiled two historic markers commemorating the landmark U.S. District Court case that paved the way to desegregate public transportation across the nation. In November 1956, judges hearing Browder v. Gayle ruled that segregation on Montgomery’s buses was unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court later affirmed the decision effectively overturning Plessy v. Ferguson, which had made “separate but equal” the law of the land in 1896. It would take another eight years and an act of Congress to take the decision nationwide.

Rosa Parks in her 1955 booking photo and on a Montgomery bus.

Fred Gray, the lawyer who defended Parks, was on hand for the unveiling along with many other civil-rights heroes and about 400 others, the Montgomery Advertiser reported.

“For the city officials, from the city and the county, to be able to honor Mrs. Parks and honor those plaintiffs, and even more importantly to honor the 40,000 African American men and women who stayed off of the buses for 382 days, it is indeed a step in the right direction,” Gray told the Advertiser.

The City of Montgomery, the Montgomery County Commission and the State of Alabama Department of Tourism funded the project and commissioned Montgomery County artist Clydetta Fulmer to complete the work.

Parks was a civil rights activist long before that fateful day in 1955. She was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, and she was prominent in the community. Her refusal to obey the bus driver’s order to move to the “colored” section of the bus was not the first time an African American refused the order nor the first arrest for civil disobedience, but the NAACP felt she was the best person on whom to base their case. That case eventually got bogged down, but her actions and willingness to become a controversial national figure inspired thousands of African Americans to boycott the buses for more than a year.

Both the Montgomery bus boycott and Parks became important touchstones for the Civil Rights Movement, and she is often referred to as the mother of the movement.

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Vicksburg police make a drug arrest, respond to auto theft and shots fired

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Clarence Lee, 64, arrested for possession of cocaine.

The Vicksburg Police Department has provided the following incident reports for Friday, Dec. 6 through Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019.

On Friday, Dec. 6, Vicksburg Police officers arrested Clarence Lee, 64, of Vicksburg, at a traffic stop. He is charged with possession of cocaine and will appear before Judge Angela Carpenter in Vicksburg Municipal Court today, Monday, Dec. 9.

On Saturday, Dec. 7, officers responded to the Circle K convenience store at 4150 Washington St. for a reported auto theft. The complainant said that someone stole his 2017 Dodge Challenger from the gas pump.

Officers also responded to two reports of shots fired. In both cases, officers found no signs of suspicious activity or evidence of shots being fired.

The first call was on Friday, Dec. 6, in the 2700 block of Alcorn Drive, and the second report was on Sunday, Dec 8, in the area of Ivy Circle and Springridge Drive.

 

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Mississippi felony voting-rights lawsuit heard by Court of Appeals in New Orleans

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Photo by Phil Roeder from Des Moines, IA, USA - 11.2.2010 291/365, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79215983

Story by Michele Lui. This story was originally published by Mississippi Today.

After Dennis Hopkins lent his name to a lawsuit that could restore voting rights to tens of thousands of Mississippians, the Potts Camp resident hit the road, traveling to Jackson and Montgomery on behalf of the cause he now represents.

On Tuesday, Dec. 3, Hopkins found himself in a federal courtroom in New Orleans, seated by his wife and a childhood friend. In front of him, a three-judge panel at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals presided over oral arguments on the suit, which challenges how Mississippi disqualifies people from voting following certain felony convictions.

Hopkins is one of six plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit. Following a grand larceny conviction from 1998, Hopkins – now a foster parent, children’s sports coach and municipal employee – cannot cast a ballot in Mississippi.

“It’s not about Dennis Hopkins voting,” Hopkins said. “It’s about the people and the taxpayers of Mississippi voting.”

Mississippi currently bans people who are convicted of a set of disqualifying crimes from voting for the rest of their lives. Those laws, established by the state Constitution of 1890, dictate that suffrage can only be restored by having a legislator-sponsored suffrage bill, which then must be approved by two-thirds of both the House and the Senate, or by a governor’s pardon. As of 2012, the attorney general’s office had identified 22 disenfranchising crimes, including theft, arson, perjury, embezzlement and timber larceny.

Only two other states, Kentucky and Iowa, impose a lifetime ban for people convicted of disenfranchising crimes. One estimate now ranks Mississippi first in the nation for its rate of disenfranchised residents.

Plaintiffs, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and New York-based firm Simpson Thacher, say people who have completed their sentence should have their suffrage restored automatically. Among their claims, they argue the lifetime voting ban violates the Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment, and 14th Amendment, which plaintiffs say allows states only to temporarily “abridge” someone’s voting rights following a crime.

But the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment does allow permanent disenfranchisement for a felony, said Krissy Nobile, representing the state in front of a three-judge panel Tuesday. Nobile said that plaintiffs lack “present-day proof of any unconstitutional effects of the law” as well.

The appellate court agreed to hear the case on an expedited basis after both parties appealed a district court ruling, in which judge Daniel P. Jordan III threw out all but one of plaintiffs’ challenges earlier this year.

Nobile argued that Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, the only named defendant in the suit, should not have been sued because his office does not have the authority to restore voting rights – the state Legislature does.

If the court were to hold the secretary of state responsible, “no convicted felon will receive a suffrage bill,” Nobile said. “No convicted felon will be re-enfranchised.”

Jonathan Youngwood, an attorney for the plaintiffs, cited a passage rate of individual suffrage bills that is already effectively “zero.” Youngwood noted that in the last 50 years, states have increasingly moved away from lifetime voting bans.

“The notion that losing the right to vote for the majority of your life after you’ve completed otherwise your sentence, what you owe society, can only be called punishment,” Youngwood said.

Judge Edith Jones asked Youngwood a series of questions, including whether plaintiffs were trying to re-enfranchise people convicted of rape and murder, and whether the secretary of state was the correct office sued.

Organizations including the American Probation and Parole Association, the Cato Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi also filed briefs in support of the plaintiffs.

Following oral arguments, Hopkins and his attorneys gathered in Lafayette Square, across the street from the courthouse, joined by other support groups from Louisiana and Mississippi to push for the restoration of voting rights not just in Mississippi, but across the Deep South.

“I am fighting, standing up for the right, for the people in Mississippi just like me that made a mistake in life,” Hopkins said. “(I) corrected my mistake, and now I’m ready to vote and restore my right as a human being, as a man. Because you have to move forward. Because what we’re doing is we’re still holding back to our old ways.”

The appellate court is also set to consider a separate challenge to Mississippi’s lifetime felony voting ban, filed by the Mississippi Center for Justice. In that suit, which also names Hosemann as the defendant, plaintiffs argue that Mississippi’s voter disenfranchisement law was designed to ensnare African Americans, whom the framers of the state Constitution believed were more prone to committing certain kinds of crimes.

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Mississippi seeing a rise in paper ballot systems

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Lafayette County is on its way to becoming the 13th Mississippi county to return to paper ballots for elections.

In 2007, the county moved to using direct-recording electronic machines, reports the Oxford Eagle, which allowed for one-touch voting on digital screens. Last week, the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors voted to begin advertising for systems using paper ballots.

DRE machines were touted to save time and money in tallying vote totals; however, issues with those systems, including lack of paper trails and vulnerabilities to hackers, are seeing counties return to paper systems across the country. That’s especially true as DREs reach the end of their usable lives and must be replaced.

The system the Lafayette supervisors is investigating would include ballot scanners and software to initially count votes from scanned ballots. If questions arise, the paper ballots could be hand counted, a feature not available with DREs, some of which do not provide a paper trail of votes at all. The scanners could also provide instant feedback to voters such as alerting them to not having voted in a particular race or having voted more than once in a race.

In 2018, Mississippi was granted $4.5 million in federal funds to harden its election security, funds that counties could have used to upgrade their aging voting systems. It’s unclear how those funds were allocated.

Currently, 12 of Mississippi’s 82 counties have returned to paper ballots in whole or in part. Those counties—which include Hinds, Madison and DeSoto—hold about half the state’s voting population. Data compiled by Ballotpedia.com show that most states used paper ballot systems as of 2018, often in combination with DREs.

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