CityBuzz [10.25.06]

'It's Not About Us'

Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Earl Watkins made the church circuit Oct. 22, touting the importance of the upcoming $150-million bond proposal on the Nov. 7 ballot to congregations in three different parts of Jackson. Watkins sounded off on the many critical repairs the school system needs, such as repairing leaky roofs and foundation problems, and reducing severe overcrowding in schools. The bond proposal seeks to fix and renovate some schools, as well as build new schools.

"If we don't do what is necessary right now, it will be the same effect as burying children and not providing them with what they need to be successful. If we allow them to continue their education in sub-par schools, it's sending the message that this is what your future is like," Watkins said at a church in Hope Springs Baptist Church, in North Jackson.

Though Watkins says Jacksonians generally favor school construction and renovation, many city residents still don't know the bond proposal is impending.

Dr. Pamela Banks, who attended service that morning at Hope Springs, said she had no knowledge of the proposal prior to Watkins' appearance.

"I know very little about this bond. It's the first time I've heard of it … but it's about the children. It's not about us," Banks said.

Rep. Jim Evans, D-Jackson, criticized proponents of the bond, saying they weren't doing all they could to edu-cate people.

"I've never been opposed to the bond issue, but somebody has to do a better job of informing people so they can make a decision. I'm worried about them losing votes because folks don't know as much as they should know," Evans said. "Even the (bond issue) push cards don't fully explain the benefits on a school-by-school basis."
— Adam Lynch

Jails On Lockdown

"I need more than 20 people to help with the jail," Sheriff McMillin said, explaining that running the jail on anything more liberal than lockdown with serious staff shortages poses a danger to the inmates, employees and jail property. As a consequence, he says the jail will remain on lockdown until he can get adequate staffing.

McMillin has said in the past that the jail should have at least 40 new employees to be run adequately.

Contrary to what some may believe, lockdown at Hinds County doesn't mean being tucked away in a concrete room for days on end—though it will seem that way to the prisoners.

"What I have to give you, by law, is one hour's exercise a day. There's still that one hour and a shower, I think, every three days," McMillin said.

Prior to the lockdown, prisoners could have as much as four hours of free time a day, depending on their level of security.

McMillin says he believes he is within state law regarding the lockdown, but adds that he's been sued for losing an inmate's sneakers, and wouldn't be surprised to see other legal actions in response to the lockdown.
— Adam Lynch

Making Schools Safe(r)

Last week, Attorney General Jim Hood announced a new initiative to prevent school violence that centers around a violence prevention guide designed to help teachers identify the warning signs of a potentially violent child. The guide will be distributed to every school in the state. The long-term goal of the initiative is to train at least one law enforcement officer in every city and county in preventing school violence.

Though no amount of violence at school is acceptable, school remains the safest place for children. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that school shootings resulted in 52 deaths between 1990 and 2000. By comparison, 840 inner-city youths, aged 14 to 17, were killed outside of school over the same period in New York City alone. Every day in 2003, an average of 15 youth, ages 10 to 24, were victims of intentional and accidental killings, according to figures from Centers for Disease Control, as reported by the Associated Press.
— Brian Johnson

Garbage Bag Nooses

Two days after the state of Mississippi executed Bobby Glen Wilcher, Juan Melendez spoke at Millsaps on the evil of capital punishment. Melendez spent 17 years and eight months on Florida's death row for a crime he did not commit. He was released in 2002. The state gave him $100 in compensation.

Though Melendez was born in Brooklyn, he grew up with family members in Puerto Rico. When he came to the U.S. as a young man, he spoke no English. He drifted from Pennsylvania to Florida as a migrant fruit picker until May 2, 1984, when he was arrested for murder and armed robbery.

His trial took only one week. "The trial began on Monday," Melendez said, "and by Friday, they had sentenced me to the electric chair."

Melendez could not assist in his defense because the court did not provide an interpreter.

Shortly after he arrived on Florida's death row, a place he describes as "hell infested with rats and roaches," Florida executed its 10th prisoner since 1973. Melendez said he could hear the whine of the generators, and the lights dimmed when the executioner threw the switch. By the time he was exonerated, Florida had executed 51 prisoners.

Many more died at their own hands. Melendez said that prisoners turned garbage bags into primitive ropes and hung themselves in their cells, a problem that has only grown worse since Gov. Jeb Bush put an end to recreation and exercise for death-row inmates. "He is trying to destroy their spirits," Melendez said. Melendez went so far as to prepare a garbage-bag noose for himself, but a dream of his native Puerto Rico, with his mother waving from the beach, strengthened his resolve to stay and fight.

Finally, after 17 years of appeals, Melendez's case went to a new judge, who discovered that the prosecutor had withheld exculpatory evidence. Abandoned in the aging case file was a tape recording of the police informant whose testimony was the only real evidence against Melendez. On that tape, the informant actually admitted to committing the murder himself. The judge ordered a new trial, but without the informant's testimony, prosecutors could not proceed. Melendez's release came as suddenly as his arrest. The inmates on death row burst into applause as he was escorted out of the cell block and into the bewildering pandemonium of national reporters eager to hear his story.

Melendez was the 99th innocent released from death row in the U.S. In the four years since, that number has grown to 123. No one knows how many innocents may have been executed.
— Brian Johnson

Previous Comments


Re: JPS school bond issue - I have seen signs posted throughout the city this week saying "VOTE YES", but it is difficult to make out what the rest of the signs say unless you drive right by it, and even then it's hard. Maybe I just can't see, but I think some new signs should be made with larger print. I've seen news reports abut the bond issue, but have there been any commercials on the radio or TV? I wonder how many citizens know about the Web site, which I'm trying to find again right now.


This is the web page on the JPS website. http://www.jackson.k12.ms.us/homepg_features/060802_mgt_top_projects/060802_mgt_top_priorities.htm

Lady Havoc


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