Let's Not Give Haley Barbour Too Much Praise
Pardoning two women serving life sentences for an $11 robbery they may not have committed is hardly a profile in courage.
He is especially counting on white people -- conservative Republicans and White Citizens' Council alums and Tea Partiers -- to give him some love (and votes) because the sisters "no longer pose a threat to society." Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, gives Barbour props for pressing the state parole board that did not -- does not -- want to release these women. "While it's been a long time coming, he could have waited if he wanted to." Most governors, Jealous said, are afraid to use their powers to grant clemency.
This is the statement Barbour issued:
… I have issued two orders indefinitely suspending the sentences of Jamie and Gladys Scott. In 1994, a Scott County jury convicted the sisters of armed robbery and imposed two life sentences for the crime. Their convictions and their sentences were affirmed by the Mississippi Court of Appeals in 1996.
To date, the sisters have served 16 years of their sentences and are eligible for parole in 2014. Jamie Scott requires regular dialysis, and her sister has offered to donate one of her kidneys to her. 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.
The Mississippi Parole Board reviewed the sisters' request for a pardon and recommended that I neither pardon them, nor commute their sentence. At my request, the Parole Board subsequently reviewed whether the sisters should be granted an indefinite suspension of sentence, which is tantamount to parole, and have concurred with my decision to suspend their sentence indefinitely.
Well, la-di-da. Humanitarian. Tough on crime. Watching the bottom line. All in a stroke or two of the pen, after these women have been in prison since 1994 for what is less than the cost of a couple of sandwiches, some chips and a soda or two. And definitely less than the cost of the lives of three young men whose only crime was trying to register black folks to vote in 1964. Mississippi, goddam.
The kissing-up has already begun. One Mississippi legislator, Willie Simmons, told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger that Barbour had made a "courageous move." Jealous also considers him courageous for standing up to the parole board. I respect Jealous and others who see Barbour as a good guy in this drama, but I think that what Barbour did was about as courageous as my trying to make a chicken parmesan dinner for a friend's birthday the other night.
E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is a Southerner based in New York and a frequent contributor to The Root.