Friday, January 20, 2012

HALEY BARBOUR LEAVES MISSISSIPPI BURNING

Way back in 1992 Joseph Ozment entered a convenience store with another man and committed a robbery. His cohort shot the clerk, Ricky Montgomery and disabled him long enough for the two to make their escape. Still, Ozment fired two shots into Montgomery’s head. He was caught, prosecuted and found guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison. Today, Ozment is not only free, but he is missing.

One man who is not concerned about Ozment’s whereabouts is former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who issued Ozment a full pardon just as he was about to exit the governor’s office on his last day. Not only did he pardon Ozment, but he pardoned 202 others, including at least 20 more convicted murderers. Watch:

That report was on January 12. The next day, Barbour held a news conference. He defended his clemency decisions by saying 189 of those pardoned were already out of jail. He said 26 were in jail, but 13 were released strictly for medical reasons. About the murderers, Barbour said they had been found guilty of crimes of passion, and according to the former governor, “experts” say those who commit crimes of passion are the most unlikely to commit another crime. He also said he is an evangelical Christian who believes in second chances. He proclaimed he is “totally at peace” with his decisions about the pardons.

One wonders why Barbour does not show more concern for the people of Mississippi who are quite uncomfortable knowing the murderers are free. I was in Mississippi the night news broke of Barbour’s eleventh hour pardons. I can safely say that everybody I came in contact with that night and the next day was dumbfounded, somewhat frightened and outraged. They were blindsided by Barbour’s callous disregard of their trust. They wanted an explanation, and they wanted Barbour to be held accountable for what they considered the careless abuse of his last moments of power. That may be why he caved to public pressure and held the press conference, at which he only managed to dig himself in deeper. About the five murderers who had worked as trustees at the Governor’s mansion, Barbour said he trusted them so completely that he even allowed his grandchildren to play with them. That simply served to make him further appear as the old, out-of-touch Southern white guy that he really is. Here is how he tried to justify his inexcusable decisions to compromise public safety in Mississippi:

Haley Barbour has a history of questionable, if not unacceptable behavior while in power. Last year, for example, Barbour said the civil rights era “was not that bad in Mississippi,” and that he “had a great childhood” in the state. Also last year, he was way too slow to veto a proposal to issue a state vanity license plate honoring a former Ku Klux Klan leader. Barbour, in fact, has a history of somewhat muted racism in his rhetoric. He also has a questionable history regarding immigration. When he worked as a lobbyist, he actually represented Mexico and reportedly made rather covert efforts to enable Mexicans to enter the U.S. and not have to fully live up to immigration laws.

What matters now is that Barbour was elected Governor of Mississippi twice, and for the most part operated in the traditions of the old South. One who spends time in Mississippi and who did not grow up there is quick to see the state has its own self-contained, early American culture. Natchez, for example, is a place that seems never to have accepted that the South lost the Civil War.[Exhibit A: At right is Mammy's Cupboard restaurant] So Barbour is a product of his environment. It so happens he amassed a certain amount of power and respect among the citizenry, so that when his term as Governor ended, he felt autonomous enough to simply let convicted first degree murderers back into the streets. What about respect for their victims, one might ask. What about their victims’ relatives, friends and associates? Are they at risk of bodily harm now?

Haley Barbour is a piece of work who has probably held Mississippi back, single handedly, from advancing into the 21st century, but his latest clemency disaster may be his worst act yet. Only time will tell if those crimes of passion he speaks of were isolated incidents or if they truly were precursors of a pattern of life-threatening criminal acts.

1 comment:

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