This Block Report interview by Minister of Information JR with the Scott sisters’ attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, was broadcast Dec. 30, the day after the sisters’ sentences were suspended, on Flashpoints, KPFA’s investigative news show heard on dozens of stations around the country. They discuss the history of the case, stipulations for the sisters’ release and the growing national prisoners’ rights movement.
by Anthony Papa
At long last the Scott sisters will be free! Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in a totally bizarre act of compassion, based on public pressure, used his commutation powers to grant the sisters their freedom.
Gov. Haley Barbour suspended the life sentences of Gladys and Jamie Scott, two African-American sisters who had served 16 years in prison for taking part in an $11 armed robbery. The women have always maintained their innocence.
For many years civil rights advocates have called for the release of the sisters. The case was brought to my attention a few years ago by Nancy Lockhart, who spearheaded the campaign to free the Scott sisters.
Although I give thanks to the governor for this act, I have to question the stipulation that in order for Gladys Scott to be free she must donate a kidney to her ailing sister, I understand that kidney health is important but I still don’t get it. An estimation was made that dialysis treatments would cost the state of Mississippi $200,000 a year, which did not include other treatments.
If the operation could not be performed because of medical reasons, they would revisit Gladys’ stipulation but she would not go back to prison. In a radio interview Barbour described the suspension of sentences as the equivalent of parole. Any violation of the law could therefore land them back in prison.
So in my view the act of compassion turns out to be a cost efficient way of ridding Mississippi of an astronomical medical bill. Barbour’s twisted view of compassion and moral sleight of hand should not come as a surprise.
Recently Barbour found himself in hot water after his attempt to revise the shameful legacy of the segregationist Council of Conservative Citizens, originally called White Citizen’s Councils.
Gov. Barbour, who by the way aspires to run for president of the United States, confirmed my thoughts by saying: “The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society. Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety or rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott’s medical condition creates a substantial cost to the state of Mississippi.”
Bob Herbert of the New York Times recently wrote about the case of the Scott Sisters in a piece titled “So Utterly Inhumane.” He said, “This is Mississippi we’re talking about, a place that in many ways has not advanced much beyond the Middle Ages.” I agree 100 percent.
Instead of giving the Scott sisters their freedom through a true compassionate act of clemency, Gov. Barbour instead used the barbaric stipulation that freedom in this case is the cost of a kidney.
I wish the Scott sisters the best in their regaining their freedom and hope they lead fruitful and productive lives. And I pray that Gov. Barbour does not use the freedom for organs tradeoff any more in the future to save the state of Mississippi tax dollars.
Anthony Papa is the author of “15 to Life” and the manager of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AnthonyPapa.
Scott sisters coming home at last
by Ben Jealous, President and CEO, NAACP
Last night, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour suspended their sentences, and the sisters are returning home for the first time in 16 years. As those of you who have been following this case are aware, Judge Marcus Gordon had condemned each of the women to double life sentences for an $11 robbery – an outrage emblematic of the biases systemic in our criminal justice system.
Yesterday I flew to Jackson, Mississippi, to meet with Gov. Barbour to urge him to make the righteous – and courageous – decision. The minute my plane landed, he called to tell me that he had agreed to the suspension. As I prepare to meet with him today, alongside Derrick Johnson, President of the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP, I want to be clear about one thing: this vindication is because of you. You raised your voice. You kept the faith.
When we couldn’t visit the Scott sisters, you wrote messages of support to let them know we remembered them. When we wouldn’t be heard by the political and judicial powers that be, you spoke louder. And because of your perseverance, the Scott sisters’ nightmare is finally over.
The last time I was in Mississippi, I was there to file the petition for clemency with Chokwe Lumumba, the Scott sisters’ lawyer, and Charles Hampton, vice president of the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP.
Today, thanks to you, I am back in Mississippi to show the world that the NAACP will not stand idly by as our sisters and brothers are wrongly imprisoned.
Please join me in welcoming them home. Sign the NAACP’s welcome home card to Gladys and Jamie: http://action.naacp.org/page/s/WelcomeHome.
I am humbled by how far your support has taken the Scott sisters on the road to justice and freedom. With every step forward, we will secure a brighter future for their children, our children and our children’s children.
Ben Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, previously served as president of the Rosenberg Foundation, director of the U.S. Human Rights Program at Amnesty International and executive director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a federation of more than 200 Black community newspapers. We at the Bay View first knew him as a reporter for the frequently fire-bombed Jackson Advocate, the Black paper in Jackson, Miss., where he exposed corruption among high-ranking officials at the state prison and helped to acquit a Black farmer who had been wrongfully and maliciously accused of arson. He can be reached at NAACP National Headquarters, 4805 Mt. Hope Drive, Baltimore MD 21215, (410) 580-5777, toll free (877) NAACP-98 or by email from their website, at http://www.naacp.org/page/s/contact.