February 10, 2016

Columbus, Miss., police file two different reports in shooting of Ricky Ball

By Donna Ladd

So, what's going on with Columbus police? The Guardian has a report that police there have filed two different police reports for killing of Ball, who was African American. The Guardian reports:

*Since 26-year-old Ricky Ball was shot and killed by police in October, the black community in Columbus, Mississippi, has grappled with questions that don’t have clear answers.

Why did police shoot Ball that night? Why did a string of police officials resign in the months that followed? And why did police claim Ball stole a gun from a police officer’s home only after his death? Attempts to obtain police documents about the case have raised a new question: why did police release two different versions of events from the shooting?

Documents obtained by the Guardian show police altered a document labeled “uniform incident report” in Ball’s death. An initial version published by the Commercial Dispatch said an officer “tased” Ball before he fled. A new version of the incident report released to the Guardian does not include any mention of Taser use.

“One of these two reports is not true,” said Philip Broadhead, director of the criminal appeals clinic at the University of Mississippi law school. Broadhead said he’s never seen an incident report altered the way the document was in this case. “For police officers to offer up this type of information in the form of an incident report as sworn law officers … It’s a violation of their oath.”*

Also, an officer fired for the shooting filed a federal lawsuit over his firing yesterday. Read more here.

February 10, 2016

Mayor: Jackson Recognizes Seriousness of Mental Illness

By adreher

Mayor Tony Yarber announced his support of reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in county jails on Tuesday. Yarber presented a resolution in his role of Mayor of the City of Jackson at a rally that the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI, held at the Capitol on Tuesday.

"It is extremely important that we say out loud that we recognize and understand the seriousness of mental illness," Yarber said. "Particularly what our role is at the city of Jackson whether it has to do with interfacing of the police department with those in community who are afflicted with mental illness or making sure health policies are in place (so) that we are dealing with this issue."

NAMI estimates that 2 million people suffer from mental illnesses nationally. NAMI held the rally at the Capitol to bring awareness to the incarceration of people with mental illnesses. The organization, which is partially funded by the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, is asking the state to step up its efforts to divert those with mental illnesses from jail and into treatment instead.

Yarber said that mental illness rates are much higher in jails than in the general public, and he said he is committed to "Stepping Up" to share lessons learned across counties and the state to work on making sure those suffering from mental illness in the community get the treatment and services they need instead of going to jail.

February 9, 2016

Breaking: Jackson City Council Passes 'Uber Ordinance'

By Donna Ladd

With only four council members present tonight, the bill passed 3-to-1, with Councilman De'Keither Stamps voted against it. Follow @jxnfreepress on Twitter for updates and read reporter Arielle Dreher's earlier story on the controversy for background on the controversy.

Story developing ...

February 9, 2016

David Banner Bringing 'GodBox' Lecture Series Home to Thalia Mara Hall

By Donna Ladd

David Banner, a Mississippi hip-hop artist, music producer and film actor, who got his start in here in Jackson, is bringing his "GodBox" lecture series to Jackson in March. Brad "Kamikaze" Franklin, who books events for the City of Jackson, announced the performance today on his Facebook page. Banner and Franklin started out as a hip-hop duo in the late 1990s.

Here is Franklin's post, verbatim:

Jackson! Gonna give you a heads up. The City of Jackson is about to bring you more ‪#‎dopeness‬ Tomorrow we will be announcing that on March 8th David Banner will be bringing his GodBox Lecture Series to Thalia Mara Hall. Tickets go on sale Thursday. And....The City of Jackson and XperienceJXN will join forces to bring you FLOETRY! Live May 14. Tickets go on sale tomorrow! More info tomorrow Welcome to the Entertainment Capital of MS!

Read a 2003 interview I did with David Banner, much earlier in both our careers.

February 9, 2016

Moe's Southwest Grill Returning to Jackson

By Dustin Cardon

Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast casual Mexican restaurant chain with more than 600 locations around the United States, will soon be returning to Jackson.

February 9, 2016

'Taking Back Our Community' Meeting Planned for Thursday in South Jackson

By Todd Stauffer

Councilman Tyrone Hendrix is calling together some heavy hitters to discuss strategies for dealing with crime in South Jackson, this Thursday, February 11, 2016, at 6:00 p.m. The meeting will take place in the cafeteria of Wingfield High School (1985 Scanlon Drive).

“The time to take action is now,” said Hendrix in a press release. “We must work collectively and engage in an open conversation to take a community-oriented approach to take back our communities.”

The panel for the discussion includes Jackson Police Chief Lee Vance, District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith, Hinds County Sherriff Victor Mason, and Creston Hills Watch Group President Johns Sledge.

The meeting, which is open to the public, is said to focus on developing strategies to combat crime, engaging local leaders in an open conversation about community-oriented solutions to crime and empowering residents to improve the safety of their neighborhoods.

Citizens, business owners, neighborhood association leaders, clergy, educators and others are encouraged to attend. For more information call Hendrix's office at 601-960-1089 or email thendrix@jacksonms.gov.


February 4, 2016

UN Working Group That Came to Jackson Files Report on Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia, Afrophobia

By R.L. Nave

The United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent visited Jackson in late January. Read a column by human-rights attorney Adofo Minka on the significance of their work. Here are the group's initial findings:

WASHINGTON D.C. (29 January 2016) - The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent thanks the Government of United States of America for its invitation to visit the country, from 19-29 January 2016, and for its cooperation. This visit is a follow up to the 2010 visit of the WGEPAD and includes other cities. We thank in particular the Department of State for arranging the visit and the local authorities who met with the Working Group during our visit to Washington D.C., Baltimore, Jackson-Mississippi, Chicago and New York City. We would like to give special thanks to the hundreds of civil society representative organizations, lawyers and individuals from the African American community for sharing their concerns and recommendations with our delegation. We also thank numerous human rights defenders and activists who reached out to us from other parts of the country that we could not visit.

The Working Group regrets that it did not receive access according to the terms of reference for special procedure mandate holders to visit Mississippi State Penitentiary Parchman. It also regrets that it was not possible to meet with all of the high level state and local level authorities requested.

The views expressed in this statement are of a preliminary nature, our findings and recommendations will be presented in our mission report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2016.

During the visit, the Working Group assessed the situation of African Americans and people of African descent and gathered information on the forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and related intolerance that they face. We studied the official measures and mechanisms taken to prevent structural racial discrimination and protect victims of racism and hate crimes as well as responses to multiple forms of discrimination. The visit focused on both good practices and challenges faced in realising their human rights.

We welcome the work of the Civil Rights centers, in all Government departments, and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission that implement the Civil Rights legislation through investigation of complaints, litigation, issuance of guidance and remedies including compensation.

We also acknowledge the work of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division regarding access to justice, investigations of excessive use of force by the police and patterns of discrimination.

We welcome the recent steps taken by the Government to reform the criminal justice system and combat racial discrimination and disparities through the following initiatives:

  • The Fair Sentencing Act.
  • The Justice Department's "Smart on Crime" initiative.
  • The report and recommendations of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing to strengthen community-police relationships across the country.
  • The new Guidance for Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Regarding the Use of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, National Origin, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Or Gender Identity
  • The Guidance for consideration ...
February 3, 2016

Yarber Responds to Airport Legislation: 'Takeover'

By toddstauffer

Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber responded today to a bill proposed by Senator Josh Harkins of Rankin County designed to give the Governor control of a regional board that would oversee the Jackson airport; the airport is currently run by a board that is appointed by the mayor of Jackson and confirmed by the Jackson city council.

February 2, 2016

Hillary Name-Checks Jackson Over Lead Contamination

By toddstauffer

Out on the campaign trail, former Secretary of State and current presidential candidate Hillary Clinton mentioned Jackson in comments that included a discussion of the lead-contaminated water problems that Flint, Michigan is facing.

According to a piece today in Salon.com, Clinton jumped out in front of her rival Bernie Sanders in embracing Jackson's lead-contamination issues as campaign fodder.

"I was concerned to hear that tests of drinking water in Jackson, Mississippi, revealed elevated levels of lead in some homes," Clinton said.

Reflecting a subtext that Michigan GOP-led state government had taken over Flint's water system, creating the lead-contamination problem and responding slowly to calls to act, Clinton continued: "I’m heartened that Jackson city officials are taking the right steps to fix the problem, including repeated testing and openness with the results, so families can stay informed."

"As the emergency in Flint, Michigan, has made clear, cities and states must treat these situations with the utmost seriousness, and do everything in their power to ensure that families – especially children – have access to safe, clean drinking water. And we as a nation must make urgent investments to modernize our utilities and infrastructure, to keep families and communities safe and healthy," Salon quoted Clinton as saying.

Mayor Tony Yarber, in a statement quoted by WJTV, responded: "We appreciate the acknowledgment of the City’s proactive response and transparency in dealing with our water concerns. Secretary Clinton notes that this appears to be a home-dependent issue. The results are pending on the second round of testing, but we must reiterate that our City’s water system is in compliance and our drinking water is safe. We will continue to keep the public informed."

Yarber went on, perhaps in an effort to make sure a potential future president of the United States heard about Jackson's infrastructure funding woes: "Serious concern has been expressed about the $540 billion funding gap that exists for water infrastructure in this country. That concern needs to be followed with a serious federal funding plan that invests more money in grant programs, particularly for disadvantaged communities.”

January 29, 2016

Mississippi Nationally Recognized for Not Lying

By sierramannie

Mississippi might not top every list in educational achievement, but at least it’s straightforward about it.

It pays to be honest. Achieve.org recognized the state for closing the “honesty gap”—the difference between how much students have actually improved on National Assessment of Educational Performance examinations and how much students are reported to have improved on NAEP examinations for the 2014-2015 school year.

A Mississippi Department of Education press release explains that the Achieve.org report released last May revealed many states mislead the public on whether or not their students are actually proficient in basic math and reading skills. Mississippi's NAEP results have improved, with figures in the double digits showing that improvement. In 2014, in fact, Bailey APAC Middle School and Northwest Middle School, both in the Jackson Public School District, outscored all other JPS middle and high schools on math assessments.

For narrowing the gap between actual test scores and reported test scores, HonestyGap.org recognizes Mississippi as a “Top Truth Teller” for the 2014-2015 school year.

Check out the full MDE press release here.

Sierra Mannie is an education reporting fellow for the Jackson Free Press and the Hechinger Report. Email her at sierra@jacksonfreepress.com.

January 28, 2016

Bert Case, Legendary Jackson TV Newsman, Dies

By R.L. Nave

Bert Case has died.

He started in TV at WAPT before going to WLBT-TV for 40 years.

In 2014, Case rejoined WAPT.

Case, who would have been 77 this weekend, had been hospitalized since the fall.

Get more details about Case on WAPT.com.


January 26, 2016

Mayor Yarber Proclaims: It's School Choice Week in Jackson

By R.L. Nave

Mayor Tony Yarber, a former principal, issued the following proclamation for School Choice Week in Jackson:

RESOLVED, by the Mayor of the City of Jackson, Mississippi that: WHEREAS, all children in Jackson should have access to the highest- quality education possible; and

WHEREAS, Jackson recognizes the important role that an effective education plays in preparing all students in Jackson to be successful adults; and

WHEREAS, quality education is critically important to the economic vitality of Jackson; and

WHEREAS, Jackson is home to a multitude of high-quality traditional public schools, public magnet schools, public charter schools, and non public schools from which parents can chose for their children; and

WHEREAS, educational variety not only helps to diversify our economy, but also enhances the vibrancy of our community; and

WHEREAS, Jackson has many high-quality teaching professionals in traditional public schools, public magnet schools, public charter schools, and non public schools who are committed to educating our children; and

WHEREAS, School Choice Week is celebrated across the country by millions of students, parents, educators, schools, and organizations to raise awareness of the need for effective educational options; and

NOW THEREFORE, I, Tony T. Yarber, Mayor of the City of Jackson, do hereby recognize January 24- 30, 2016 as SCHOOL CHOICE WEEK, in the City of Jackson, Mississippi, and urge all citizens to observe this week.


January 26, 2016

Renamed Hal's St. Paddy's Parade to Honor Hal White, Benefit Batson Children's Hospital

By MayaLMiller

This year, for its 33rd annual St. Paddy's Day Parade, Mal's St. Paddy's Parade is changing its name to Hal's St. Paddy's Parade in honor of the late Hal White. Proceeds from the event, held March 19, will benefit the Children's Heart Center at Batson Hospital for Children.

This is a full, verbatim release from the UMMC Division of Public Affairs:

Mal’s St. Paddy’s Parade is changing its name to Hal’s St. Paddy’s Parade & Festival in memory of Hal White, brother of parade founder Malcolm White and half of team that opened the well-loved Jackson restaurant and venue Hal & Mal’s.

The parade is set for March 19 in downtown Jackson. A supporter of Batson Children’s Hospital for decades, the event raised more than $25,000 for the hospital in 2015, a year when a downpour threatened to dampen the fun.

“I wanted to rename the parade to honor my brother,” White said. “The theme of the 2016 parade is ‘Hal-lelu-Y’all,’ in keeping with remembering Hal.”

Hal White died after suffering an aneurysm in 2013 at 64.

“Hal absolutely loved the parade,” White said. “He and I started the O’Tux Society, and Hal didn’t even live in Jackson at the time. He’d come march in the parade every year.”

Grand marshal of the parade this year is the Rev. Mike O’Brien, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Canton who served more than 12 years at St. Richard Catholic Church in Jackson.

“He’s Irish,” White said, “and he was Hal’s priest for years. He baptized Hal’s granddaughter and said Hal’s (funeral) mass.”

O’Brien remembers Hal White as being “a good, solid family man, a guy who was comfortable being in the background and a man who was a very good father and a good husband. He took a great interest in whatever his children were doing and was very close to them and to his wife, Ann, too.”

Being named as grand marshal was “a great surprise,” O’Brien said, “but I am from Ireland.”

Guy Giesecke, CEO of Children’s of Mississippi, the umbrella organization for Batson Children’s Hospital and all pediatric care at UMMC, said the annual parade and festival has been a benefactor to the hospital for decades.

“This annual event, one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the U.S., is a showcase for music and entertainment in Mississippi,” he said, “but it also generates thousands of dollars for the state’s only children’s hospital, showing that this is a festival with a mission. We thank all those who have contributed over the years and this year.”

The fun begins March 18 with the Marching MAL-Function and Second Line Stomp, then starts with a bang March 19 at the Fleet Feet Sports St. Paddy’s 5K, a benefit for the Children’s Heart Center at Batson Hospital for Children.

Registration is open and will continue online until March 16 at www.fleetfeetjackson.com. Coloring contest, age group awards, team competitions, team prizes for best costumes, and most money raised for the ...

January 22, 2016

Walmart Closes 6 Mississippi Stores; Raises Worker Wages

By adreher

Walmart is closing six Walmart Express stores in Mississippi, all located in the northern part of the state in small towns. The store closures translate to about 180 lost jobs, but the national corporation said its main focus is to take care of the associates, offering them the option to transfer to nearby Walmart or Sam's Club stores. The Walmart Express stores in Belmont, Mantachie, Sardis, Walnut, Derma and Nettleton will close on January 28.

Walmart spokeswoman Anne Hatfield said that some associates will stay on in the Walmart Express stores until all inventory is removed by the second week of February. Associates that have not transferred will be paid for an additional 60 days, and those associates that have been with the company for a year or longer also have a severance option. Walmart is getting rid of most of the Walmart Express stores nationally, and to compensate for potential food shortages in communities where the stores are closing, Walmart will donate $3,000 to local food banks, Hatfield said.

On a more positive note for Walmart workers, all hourly employees can look forward to a wage increase of $10 per hour as long as they have been with the company since Jan. 1. Workers who started work after Jan. 1 can complete a training program in order to watch their wages jump to $10 per hour. The pay raise goes into effect on Feb. 20. Hatfield said that this is a part of Walmart's commitment to investing in their associates and doing things to ensure their employees are happy and engaged with their work. 2016 is Walmart's second year of a $2.7 billion investment in its workers.

January 21, 2016

Roy McMillan, Anti-Abortion Gadfly, Dead

By R.L. Nave

Roy McMillan has died after a long illness, the Clarion-Ledger reported.

Frequent visitors to Fondren know McMillan as the brash, fedora-wearing, fetus-sign waving anti-abortion protester near the Jackson Women's Health Organization.

A bit of history on McMillan:

In 1995, a federal court ordered McMillan to stay 50 feet away from the clinic for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, enacted in 1994 after Dr. (David) Gunn's murder in Pensacola. According to court records, on May 3, 1995, McMillan made his hand into the shape of a gun and told clinic employees: "Y'all look like a bunch of birds on a telephone wire waiting to be shot off by a man with a shotgun...Pow, pow, pow, pow."

McMillan pickets the clinic each day they see patients by displaying signs that carry pictures of fetuses and messages equating abortion to genocide. He and his wife, Beverly, an OB/GYN and former abortion doctor, also oppose all hormonal birth control including the pill and the morning-after pill.

He told the Jackson Free Press that meeting Beverly in 1982 is how he became involved in the pro-life movement.

JFP reporter Casey Parks wrote of McMillan: "He was reluctant to even join the mission. He thought Beverly was cute and smart when he saw her speak, though, so he asked her on a date. She thought he was charming, and they quickly married.

The pro-life movement inundated the husband's life as the wife spent most of her weekends speaking around the state. He joined the pro-life movement rather halfheartedly—he agreed to oversee one of the pro-life publications. His master's in journalism from Columbia University would come in handy, he thought, and besides, he wanted nothing to do with sidewalk counseling or protesting. When a colleague suggested that Roy go out to the clinic to take some action photos, Roy got a little nervous."


January 21, 2016

Secretary of State Proposes Revisions to MS Election Laws

By adreher

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has announced several revisions to Mississippi election laws that will bring our code up to date with current elections procedures and technology. Some of the changes include tightening down campaign finance disclosure laws for political committees and moving Mississippi's presidential primary vote day to the first Tuesday in March. See full list of changes reproduced below from the Secretary of State's press release:

  • Modernized Criminal Penalties: consolidates all election crimes in Chapter 13, Title 97 of the Mississippi Code; updates penalties to match fines and sentences applied to other felonies and misdemeanors

  • Online Voter Registration: modernizes and streamlines Mississippi's voter registration system; brings Mississippi in line with over half the United States which allow for online registration; will allow US citizens who are Mississippi residents who possess a Mississippi driver's license or DPS issued identification card to register electronically; will help eliminate errors and reduce costs of paper registrations

  • Pre-Election Day Voting: creates a 21 day no excuse voting period for citizens to cast their ballot before election day; voting will be conducted only at the County Courthouse during the pre-election voting period; any registered voter may cast a final vote during the pre-election voting period; eliminates the need for in-person absentee voting

  • Financial Disclosures to Voters: moves deadline for political committees to file a statement of organization from 10 days after receiving or spending funds to 48 hours after spending or receiving funds; increases transparency by requiring filers to itemize payments made to credit card issuers, banks, or online payment portals; places sanctions on political committees that failed to make required filings with the Secretary of State

  • Presidential Primary: moves Mississippi's Presidential Preference Primary from the second Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday; will make Mississippi have a stronger voice in choosing the presidential nominees

January 20, 2016

Almost 100,000 Mississippians Sign Up for HealthCare.gov

By R.L. Nave

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services made the following announcement:

Since Open Enrollment began on November 1, about 8.8 million consumers signed-up for health coverage through the HealthCare.gov platform or had their coverage automatically renewed, including 97,909 Mississippi. Today’s enrollment snapshot includes the number of people who selected a plan or were automatically reenrolled within local media markets. This localized data provides another level of detail to better understand total plan selections within local communities. As of January 16,

9,186 consumers in the Biloxi-Gulfport local media market area selected or were automatically enrolled in a plan 13,046 consumers in the Columbus-Tupelo-West Point local media market area selected or were automatically enrolled in a plan 6,748 consumers in the Greenwood-Greenville local media market area selected or were automatically enrolled in a plan 38,481 consumers in the Jackson, MS local media market area selected or were automatically enrolled in a plan

“As expected, consumer interest is beginning to increase again as we near the deadline for 2016 coverage,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said. “We know we have more work to do and as we count down to the January 31 final deadline, we’re focused on making sure consumers understand that they must act soon to find affordable health coverage and avoid the fee for choosing to not have health insurance in 2016. Consumers should know that we’re here to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

Open Enrollment for 2016 coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace began Nov. 1, 2015, and runs through January 31, 2016. Consumers who enroll by January 31 will have coverage effective March 1. Having health insurance when you can afford it is now the law. If someone chooses not to buy health insurance and could afford to do so, they are at risk of paying a fee of $695 or more. Consumers are encouraged to visit HealthCare.gov to review and compare health plan options and find out if they are eligible for financial assistance, which can help lower monthly premiums and reduce out-of-pocket costs.

January 19, 2016

Senator Will Longwitz Headed to Madison County Court

By adreher

Sen. Will Longwitz, R-Madison, is leaving the Senate to accept his recent appointment to the Madison County Court. In a press release from the Administrative Office of the Courts, Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. announced the appointments of Longwitz to Madison County Court and Judge Jim Greenlee to the Court of Appeals.

Waller said in a statement:

"I welcome Judge Jim Greenlee and Judge Will Longwitz to the bench. I look forward to their being sworn in so that they may assume their duties on the Court of Appeals and the Madison County Court. Both courts have high volume caseloads. The judiciary must operate at full strength so that the work of the courts is handled efficiently and expeditiously.”

No word yet on any special election plans to replace Sen. Longwitz. Stay tuned.

January 18, 2016

Woodrow Wilson Construction Moving Forward

By toddstauffer

On Friday, the City of Jackson updated their status on repairs on Woodrow Wilson Drive between State Street and I-55; crews will dig on Monday to determine the parts needed for repairs that will take place a few weeks from now.

January 11, 2016

Report: Mississippi Foster Care System 'Well Beyond Crisis'

By adreher

A report in the Olivia Y case, filed on Jan. 6, found that an infant died within five days after entering the state's foster care system. The report found that the state had not inspected the home where the baby died before the baby was placed there. Judith Meltzer, from the Center for Study of Social Policy, found that the baby's death was a result of poor documentation and failure to "properly collect and document information significant to the licensing process" and "record information in the case record."

Mississippi's foster care system has actually gotten worst, the report found. Only 2 percent of children entering the foster care system received a health exam within 30 days, and 2 percent of foster parents received all the relevant medical information on a foster child within 15 days of placement.

The Olivia Y case has been ongoing since 2004, since the state was sued by A Better Childhood, a national nonprofit advocacy organization, on the state's foster care children's behalf. On Dec. 22, 2015 the federal court issued an order requiring that the state create the Division of Family and Children's Services--separate from the Department of Human Services. Gov. Phil Bryant selected former Mississippi Supreme Court Judge David Chandler to be the executive director of the new division on Dec. 29, 2015.

The court order also requires increased compensation and technology for caseworkers as well as an increase in foster homes in the state. Executive director of A Better Childhood, Marcia Robinson Lowry said there are far too few foster homes and workers in the state, in a press release. "The facts could not be more clear," she said in the release. "The foster care system in Mississippi is well beyond crisis."


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