A dark storm is brewing in and near Natchez, Miss., after the publisher of MissLou Magazine, The Natchez Sun and Natchez Sun XPress made shocking statements about young black people on Jan. 11, 2017, apparently in jest.
Peter Rinaldi wrote in a MissLou Magazine column titled, "Bang, Bang, You're Dead": "Natchez has become increasingly dangerous in the last eight years. As the population becomes more demographically poor, uneducated, unskilled and dominantly African American, the number of shootings has gone through the roof."
Rinaldi then lists three shootings and two deaths since the year started. He then added: "This is not such a bad thing, as one cynic remarked. The more criminals who shoot each other and are 'taken out,' the safer it is for the rest of us, the logic goes. Three shootings, three bad guys eliminated. Fifty shootings, 50 bad guys eliminated."
Then, he turns to joking, it seems, saying that "we were glad to hear local officials have finally fashioned a new anti-violence plan, which will be advertised in print and on the airwaves shortly, with posters spread all over town." That plan, he wrote, is called the Natchez-Adams County Gangbangers' Rodeo, which will be held March 12 at 7 p.m. at Liberty Park (where Natchez's Klan rallies used to happen, but we'll get to that). It is open to those 13 and up.
Rinaldi then explains in detail how this "rodeo" will work: "Open to all gangbangers with a .45 or 9 mm handgun. Limited to 20 rounds per person. Entry fee $100. Must be paid in cash in advance. No checks." The participants will then get in a circle and start shooting each other when the referee fires the starter pistol. They all kill or maim each other, and the last one standing gets $10,000. Free hot dogs and beers will be served, as well as fireworks. DJ Mortem, he writes, will provide live rap music. (See images of his event description below.)
The Mississippi Rising Coalition on the Gulf Coast alerted me to the editorial. Lea Campbell of MRC sent me the following statement:
"This kind of blatantly racist and classist editorializing and commentary from the publisher of a magazine in the Natchez area is irresponsible and unacceptable. Widespread violence in a community is the symptom of underlying social problems like poverty, institutional and structural racism, underfunded and segregated educational systems, untreated mental illness among many, many others. Mr. Rinaldi fails to express an understanding of these factors and scapegoats the issue of increasing violence in a way that will only act to fuel further racial and class division in the community instead of bringing the various community members together to work on effective, sustainable solutions. Shame on him for using his power and platform in such a reckless, dehumanizing and negligent way."
She also sent this statement from an MRC member whose parents reside in Natchez: "There are a million reasons that these shootings are occurring, and not a single one of them is being addressed by local leadership. This racist propaganda is meant to dehumanize the African American population and does nothing more than feed stereotypes and worsen racial divisions."
After this post went live the night of Jan. 12, Rinaldi posted a response below it in the comments (which I respond to in the comments below). He wrote: "Obviously, my commentary is satire. There is an explosion in crime in Natchez including violent crime. We had seven shootings in July. Now three murders in January. And city officials are doing nothing to ramp up police response. The city is in the bottom 2% of safe communities according to FBI statistics. I am not advocating people shooting each other. But Natchez is turning into a little Jackson. Not a good thing. I would like to see officials respond to the present danger. Instead they feel comfortable calling me a racist when the problem is black on black crime is out of control."
The irony of this offensive editorial is, of course, that Natchez was once the epicenter of what the FBI called "Klan Nation," with one of the most violence KKK groups in the nation headquartered there, as well as a strong Citizens Council and chapter of Americans for the Preservation of the White Race, which provided legal defense to local KKK members and other white terrorists of black people. It was a place where black people were routinely terrorized and, often killed. I did an investigative series on the Klan based in Natchez and Adams County, as well as neighboring Franklin County, which helped put Klansman James Ford Seale in prison. Through that work, I learned and reported just how violent a place that area was for African Americans not that long ago.
- Here are links to those primary stories: I Want Justice, Too: Looking for Justice for Henry Dee and Charles Moore Evolution of a Man: Lifting the Hood in South Mississippi Fighting Back in Klan Nation We Are Family: A Klan Child Fans a Different Flame James Ford Seale: A Trail of Documents Tell the Story Daddy, Get Up: This Son of Natchez Wants Justice, Too
Not only do I study and report on solutions for gang violence in today's world, but I have combed through newspaper archives in libraries in Natchez and surrounding areas and read editorials from the time of Dee, Moore and Seale that sound creepily similar to Rinaldi's very poor attempt at satire. Here's one interesting example that focuses on a Franklin County newspaper editor and his support for organized white supremacy. I quoted The Franklin Advocate's David Webb's words from then:
"We believe in the preservation of the white race. We believe in the preservation of our way of life. We believe in the segregation of the races in schools, churches and public places. We do NOT believe in outside agitation, the NAACP, CORE or any other left-wing* organizations. If you believe as we do, we invite you to join us in this fight. Your freedom and your way of life is slowing being taken away. Wake up! Meet with us every TUESDAY night at 7:30 p.m. at the Franklin County Courthouse. Americans for the Preservation of the White Race: For your family's benefit, please attend!"
Needless to say, Mr. Rinaldi is way out of line. I invite him, instead, to spend time in our ongoing "Preventing Violence" series, where he could find research-based solutions the community can take to interrupting cycles of violence among young people—an option that is a lot less bloody than lining up black people in a circle and telling them to kill each other.
That nasty rhetoric, parading as a joke, is a serious part of the problem.