Media Discover "Framed," Imprisoned Sisters
Monday, November 22, 2010
A black nationalist website was onto the case early. Then there were more websites and the muckraking magazine Mother Jones.
A talk-show voice on CNN, a local black radio station and the syndicated "The Michael Baisden Show" joined the mix, as did the NAACP and the Innocence Project.
The social media sites played their role. And now the "legacy" print media have joined in.
So, will two black Mississippi women, whom so many agree have been unjustly imprisoned, now be freed?
On Sunday, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald became the latest to raise his voice. He wrote:
"Let’s assume that two days before Christmas in 1993, a 22-year-old black woman named Jamie Scott and her pregnant, 19-year-old sister Gladys set up an armed robbery. Let’s assume these single mothers lured two men to a spot outside the tiny town of Forest, Miss., where three teenage boys, using a shotgun the sisters supplied, relieved the men of $11 and sent them on their way, unharmed.
"Assume all of the above is true, and still you must be shocked at the crude brutality of the Scott sisters’ fate. You see, the sisters, neither of whom had a criminal record before this, are still locked away in state prison, having served 16 years of their double-life sentences.
"It bears repeating. Each sister is doing double life for a robbery in which $11 was taken and nobody was hurt. Somewhere, the late Nina Simone is moaning her signature song: Mississippi Goddam."
"For the record, two of the young men who committed the robbery testified against the sisters as a condition of their plea bargain. All three reportedly received two-year sentences and were long ago released. No shotgun or forensic evidence was produced at trial. The sisters have always maintained their innocence.
"Observers are at a loss to explain their grotesquely disproportionate sentence. Early this year, the Jackson Advocate, a weekly newspaper serving the black community in the state capital, interviewed the sisters’ mother, Evelyn Rasco. She described the sentences as payback for her family’s testimony against a corrupt sheriff. According to her, that sheriff’s successor vowed revenge."
Lenore J. Daniels added last year on BlackCommentator.com:
"Evelyn Rasco has been fighting for her daughters' release the last 14 years. Rasco lost her husband and an older daughter who died of congenital heart failure in 2001. This daughter left behind a 5 year old child. In these last 14 years, Rasco has tried to be the grandmother and the mother of 10 children (includes grandchildren of Jamie and Gladys) while sustaining the battle to free her two remaining daughters from prison."
Unlike in antebellum Mississippi, some of the accused villains in this saga, in both the prosecution and in law enforcement, are African American.
But that distinction hasn't meant much to Jamie Scott. In August 2009, she posted this message on a website maintained by her family:
"Slavery in Mississippi has changed names. It is still very much active and alive in Mississippi. Its new name is called the LAW! So, if there is anyone out there that thinks this cannot happen to their child or family, think about Gladys and Jamie Scott. We were not criminals nor were we drug addicts. I worked every day. I have a right to be bitter, angry, mad as hell at the United States of America, but I choose not to because I know a higher power and Gladys and I WILL walk the streets again."
Among the sisters' most ardent champions is Nancy R. Lockhart, who came across the sisters' case as a law student working with the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. As a volunteer, Lockhart has dedicated her attention to the Scott sisters' case for the last four years.
"I will never forget the frigid, Chicago morning when I opened a letter from Mrs. Evelyn Rasco, a mother and widow," Lockhart wrote two years ago for BlackCommenator.com. "She told the story of her daughters, and said she had written Rainbow/PUSH for 11 years, without a response. She redirected her strategy this time and wrote Congressman [Jesse] Jackson [Jr.] in a plea to get the letter to his father’s (Rev. [Jesse] Jackson) office. The letter was hand delivered."
Lockhart told Journal-isms on Monday that her piece came to the attention of Rip Daniels, a Realtor who owns WJZD in Gulfport, Miss., via a friend who read the piece in Cuba.
Daniels began publicizing the case on his station. He even urged listeners to write in the names of the sisters in opposition to the reelection bid of the presiding judge in their trial, Marcus Gordon.
The case drew more attention in February after a small crowd gathered outside the state capitol in Jackson to push for the sisters' release.
"At the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) in Pearl, where Jamie and Gladys are incarcerated, medical services are provided by a private contractor called Wexford, which has been the subject of lawsuits and legislative investigations in several states over inadequate treatment of the inmates in its care. According to Jamie Scott’s family, in the six weeks since her condition became life-threatening, she has endured faulty or missed dialysis sessions, infections, and other complications. She has received no indication that a kidney transplant is being considered as an option, though her sister is a willing donor."
Then, in May, Ridgeway quoted from a letter from Jamie Scott:
"The living condition in quickbed area is not fit for any human to live in. I have been incarcerated for 15 years 6 months now and this is the worst I have ever experience. When it rain out side it rain inside. The zone flood like a river. The rain comes down on our heads and we have to try to get sheets and blankets to try to stop it from wetting our beds and personnel property...I am fully aware that we are in prison, but no one should have to live in such harsh condition. I am paranoid of catching anything because of what I have been going throw with my medical condition."
The case caught the attention of cable television when CNN's Jane Velez-Mitchell used it on March 4 to illustrate the disparities in the criminal justice system. Lockhart posted the video on her website.
National black radio helped. An appeal on the "Michael Baisden Show" for a CAT scan to find the cause of Jamie Scott's headaches prompted listeners to pressure authorities. "She's going blind," Lockhart said of Jamie Scott. The scan was performed, but Scott still does not know the results, Lockhart said.
Attention in the New York Times raised the case's profile. Columnist Bob Herbert, who is syndicated, devoted two columns to the case last month.
"This is Mississippi we’re talking about, a place that in many ways has not advanced much beyond the Middle Ages," Herbert wrote. "The right thing to do at this point is to get the sisters out of prison as quickly as possible and ensure that Jamie gets proper medical treatment."
The piece "produced a different level of people who responded," Lockhart said, and their numbers pushed the Facebook support page beyond its limit.
Meanwhile, other writers tried to put the case in a larger context. BlogHer's Nordette Adams wrote, "The high numbers of African-Americans being sent to prison for longer terms than whites committing a similar crime, as was seen in the case of the Jena 6, has prompted research that leads some people to conclude the prison system, with its work programs, has become the agent of "neoslavery."
On the other hand, a Mississippi writer objected to using the case as a slur against his state. "I don't want Mississippi's painful history stricken from the nation's textbooks, and I don't want outsiders to stop trying to effect change in the Magnolia state, if they feel so moved," M. Scott Morris of Tupelo's Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal wrote last month. "But there are a whole lot of sins buried in a whole lot of backyards in this country."
For all the news outlets who have mentioned the Scott sisters case, however, many more have not. Lockhart praises Charles Evers, the civil rights leader who is station manager for WMPR-FM in Jackson, and investigative reporter Kathy Y. Times of WDBD-TV in Jackson, who is also president of the National Association of Black Journalists. But Lockhart can also name media outlets that have not returned telephone calls or have made inquiries but never followed up.
"The media have been very important," she told Journal-isms, but the women are still in prison and at least one is in need of medical attention. Gov. Haley Barbour is weighing a pardon, but that is by no means certain. "We still need a lot of coverage. There are still a lot of people who don't know about this case," Lockhart said. "The media are very much needed in this case. I do not exaggerate when expressing the medical condition that Jamie is in. We need more of a public outcry!"
- Eve Conant, newsweek.com: Left Wing: Pardon Me, Governor Barbour
- Toure Muhammad, the Final Call: Jailed for $11: Sisters locked up 16 years in Dirty South injustice
- News release: 1961 Freedom Riders Call For Prisoners' Release
- Pamela D. Reed, thedailyvoice.com: Mississippi Goddam: Free the Scott Sisters
- James Ridgeway, Mother Jones: Haley Barbour Will Decide the Fate of the Scott Sisters
Du Juan, left, Tao Okamoto, Lee Hyun, Hyoni Kang, Liu Wen, Bonnie Chen, So Young Kang and Lily Zhi. (Credit: Steven Meisel for Vogue)
"December's American Vogue features eight Asian models who are, according to the magazine, 'redefining traditional concepts of beauty,' " James Lim noted last week in New York magazine.
"Which raises the question, 'traditional concepts of beauty' where, exactly?" added Jen Wang on the website Disgrasian. "Because there are plenty of places in the world where, traditionally speaking, Asian women have long been considered beautiful. Like in, um, Asia, for example? Even in Western countries, Asian beauty, for lack of a more specific term, isn’t a new concept (although, granted, sometimes, it’s a creepy, fetishy one.)
"And since that covers 3/4 of the world’s population, what’s left?
"Vogue magazine, that’s what.
"Let’s think about this for a second: American Vogue has never featured an Asian model on its cover in its 40-plus years of featuring models on its cover (unless you count Blasian Naomi Campbell). American Vogue also has a dismal track record when it comes to featuring non-white models in general. So, by featuring a 'new' crop of Asian models in its pages, American Vogue is 'redefining traditional concepts of beauty' held by . . . American Vogue."
President Obama speaks to the Indian Parliament on Nov. 8 as rumors spread back home that his trip would cost taxpayers $200 million a day. (Credit: Pete Souza/White House)
"On Nov. 4, Anderson Cooper did the country a favor. He expertly deconstructed on his CNN show the bogus rumor that President Obama’s trip to Asia would cost $200 million a day," Thomas Friedman wrote last week in the New York Times. "This was an important 'story.' It underscored just how far ahead of his time Mark Twain was when he said a century before the Internet, 'A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.' But it also showed that there is an antidote to malicious journalism — and that’s good journalism.
"In case you missed it, a story circulated around the Web on the eve of President Obama’s trip that it would cost U.S. taxpayers $200 million a day — about $2 billion for the entire trip. Cooper said he felt impelled to check it out because the evening before he had had Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a Republican and Tea Party favorite, on his show and had asked her where exactly Republicans will cut the budget.
"Instead of giving specifics, Bachmann used her airtime to inject a phony story into the mainstream. She answered: 'I think we know that just within a day or so the president of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day. He’s taking 2,000 people with him. He’ll be renting over 870 rooms in India, and these are five-star hotel rooms at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. This is the kind of over-the-top spending.'
"The next night, Cooper explained that he felt compelled to trace that story back to its source, since someone had used his show to circulate it. His research, he said, found that it had originated from a quote by 'an alleged Indian provincial official,' from the Indian state of Maharashtra, 'reported by India’s Press Trust, their equivalent of our A.P. or Reuters. I say "alleged," provincial official,' Cooper added, 'because we have no idea who this person is, no name was given.' ”
- George E. Curry, National Newspaper Publishers Association: Obama Should Reject Bush Tax Breaks for the Wealthy
- Askia Muhammad, Washington Informer: America’s loss of friendship
- Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: Obama's opportunity to be the decider
- Jack White, theRoot.com: Rescuing the President
"In her new family memoir, 'Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family' (Crown Archetype, October 2010), Condoleezza Rice recalls her childhood in the parallel worlds of segregated Birmingham, where her attentive parents did their best to shield her from the daily degradations of being black in Alabama in the '50s and '60s," Kenneth J. Cooper, a Boston-based freelancer and Denver native, wrote Sunday for the Denver Post.
"The Rices refused to sip from 'colored only' fountains and on road trips carried their own food.
"I was struck, though, by what happened after her family moved in Denver in 1968. They seem to have eased into another parallel world, this one on the other side of the color line, quite apart from the city's black community, where I was growing up at the same time. Condoleezza seems to have had almost no connection to northeast Denver.
". . . her parents sent their only child to St. Mary's Academy, the same year I entered Graland Country Day. At St. Mary's, her estrangement from black Denver took firm hold, by her account.
"Two other black girls were in Condoleezza's class of 70 students. She remembers that 'a huge wall separated me from my black sisters. Maybe I was just the new kid on the block, or I didn't try hard enough, but I sure didn't feel welcomed by the few black students.'
"At Graland, class tensions divided me and a couple of more prosperous black students. It's hard to say similar problems existed at St. Mary's: One black classmate from an accomplished family once told me she felt young Condoleezza looked down on her. . . .
"On her book tour or another visit to Denver, I hope a black intimate with northeast Denver takes the former secretary of state on a fact-finding mission to correct her misimpressions. Perhaps her guide could be former Mayor Wellington Webb."
- Javier E. David, thegrio.com: Why blacks should end their beef with Condoleezza Rice
- Sherrilyn A. Ifill, theRoot.com: Standing Up for the Extraordinary, Ordinary People Who Didn't Fight Back
- Dale Russakoff, Washington Post Magazine: Lessons of Might and Right: How Segregation and an Indomitable Family Shaped National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (2001)
"Pride and nostalgia aside, the cold business reality is that Johnson Publishing was long overdue to move on," Eric Easter, former vice president of digital and entertainment for Johnson Publishing Co., argued Sunday on theRoot.com.
The company announced last week that it has sold its historic building on Chicago's Michigan Avenue to Columbia College Chicago but would stay there for 18 months.
"For anyone decrying some great loss of history, I would argue that the history is secure," Easter wrote. "More important than Johnson Publishing owning the building or residing in it is that the building even existed for its time. It stands as a major achievement. Historians and preservationists should be more concerned that the landmark does not get torn down and that its story be told prominently and correctly.
"As for the company itself, I would advise my former colleagues not to wait to move. Get out as soon as possible and begin anew. Scrap the 'world's largest black publishing company' hype and start acting like a startup. Find a funky warehouse with creaky floors, drafty windows and exposed beams, and a great view of an alley — some space that reeks of innovation, creativity and growth. Then crank the music loud and start having fun again. Less Mad Men, more Facebook."
"Media owners from across the African continent today vowed to end reliance on donor funding and rid the industry of corrupt practices," the African Media Initiative announced from Cameroon, West Africa, on Friday.
"This is a watershed moment that holds out the promise of a new dawn in African media," said Trevor Ncube, co-chairman of the African Media Initiative, a continent-wide body that sponsors the African Media Leaders Forum.
"The three year old Forum brought together more than 225 African media owners from 48 African countries, as well as international media experts. The purpose of the meeting was aimed at coming to a consensus around the best ways to develop an African media that meets the needs of a dramatically changing media landscape, while instilling the highest professional standards and ethical reporting. . . .
"Attending the meeting were representatives from African financial institutions that pledged to assist in transforming media institutions into both viable businesses and effective purveyors of credible news and information."
In March, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the veteran African American journalist now based in Africa, and Ncube, an owner of media properties in Zimbabwe and South Africa, announced they were starting an "African Media Initiative" to bolster a free news media on the continent.
- "Last week, the Washington Post published a column by 'Democrats' Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell arguing that President Obama could save the country and cure political gridlock by not seeking reelection in 2012," Simon Maloy reported Monday for Media Matters. "Now, a week later, the Post has published an op-ed by Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, who points out what everybody already knew — Schoen's and Caddell's argument was empirically and laughably absurd."
- "A new analysis of Pew Research Center pre-election surveys conducted this year finds that support for Republican candidates was significantly higher in samples based only on landlines than in dual frame samples that combined landline and cell phone interviews," the center reported on Monday. "Hispanics and African-Americans comprise a larger proportion of duals reached on their cell phone than on their landline phone."
- Some communities don't like to be stereotyped as redneck, reader representative Derek Donovan wrote Sunday in the Kansas city Star. "The people who contacted me weren’t laughing . . . over a caption that ran with a photo of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, who had recently appeared at the Country Music Awards with a new haircut that resembled a shorter version of the 'mullet' — short on the top and sides, long in the back — that he wore when he rose to fame in the early 1990s. Cyrus 'rocked it like Raytown,' read The Star’s caption. 'I found very sad that your paper would try to contribute to the negative image that the media continues to associate to Raytown,' wrote Raytown resident Terri Danner. 'We are not the redneck community that we are painted as by the media. We are an up-and-coming multicultural community that is close to everything.' "
- " 'Sunrise' anchor Grace Lee will anchor her last 'Hawaii News Now' morning show on Wednesday, the last day of the November Nielsen ratings period," Erika Engle reported Saturday for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. "Her impending departure was announced on the air yesterday, with further news that she had accepted a reporter-anchor position with KPIX-TV, the CBS-owned and operated station in San Francisco."
- In changes announced Monday by ABC News, Akiko Fujita joins ABC News as a digital journalist based in Tokyo. She was previously a reporter with ABC’s Seattle affiliate KOMO-TV. Yunji de Nies moves to Atlanta, where she will join Steve Osunsami. Prior to her most recent assignment at the White House, de Nies worked as a correspondent for NewsOne, the network’s affiliate news service, the network said.
- In New York, "In a display of journalistic and musical solidarity, THE IRISH-MEXICAN ALLIANCE will hold a concert on Wed., Dec. 8 to raise funds for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which is raising awareness of the plight of journalists who are being killed, intimidated and forced to seek asylum in the U.S. while reporting on the Narco War across the U.S. border in Mexico," the groups announced on Friday.
- Sports columnist Michael Wilbon said this of his decision to leave the Washington Post for an expanded role at ESPN: "It was a pretty traumatic day for me on Wednesday, I guess, to tell Don Graham," chairman of the Washington Post Co., according to Dan Steinberg, writing on washingtonpost.com. "Look, I'm 52 years old and I worked at the Washington Post for 31-and-a-half years. People can do the math. It's a greater part of my identity than anything else in my life, and that's including my wife and child, because they're relatively new to the scene."
- News Corp. principal Rupert Murdoch has emerged as Sarah Palin’s chief backer, "appearing to take sides in the looming primary despite pointed criticism of Palin from the likes of Fox News contributor and former Bush advisor Karl Rove and others," Karl Frisch wrote Saturday for Media Matters, quoting from a Frank Rich column in Sunday's New York Times.
- "Bucking the current cord-cutting trend, African-Americans are increasing their cable subscriber numbers compared to last year, according to a Horowitz Associates survey," Thomas Umstead reported Monday for Multichannel News. "Approximately 61% of African-Americans surveyed for Horowitz's 'State of Cable and Broadband Services' report currently subscribe to cable, a slight increase over the 59% that reported cable subscriptions in 2009. African-American satellite subscriptions also increased to 23% in 2010 from 20% in 2009. In comparison, both cable and satellite subscriptions fell for all other ethnic groups."
- Guy Raz, a descendant of Holocaust victims and host of NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday," delivered an essay on the sting the word "Nazi" still holds in light of Fox News chief Roger Ailes' use of the term to describe Raz and his NPR colleagues. "Just 65 years ago, within the lifetime of many people still alive today, the Nazis killed 1 out of every 3 Jews on the face of the Earth. They destroyed a world and a way of life for millions of people — Jews, Christians and nonbelievers," Raz said. Ailes apologized to the Anti-Defamation League, saying he should have used the term "nasty, inflexible bigot."
- Journalist Romeo P. Marquez Sunday announced he had created the Filipino Web Channel, which "has its first feature, one of the many stories that will highlight the relatively-unknown Filipinos who work diligently in Canada, the United States and other places in pursuit of their dreams of a better life."
- Among other features, the new Trice Edney News Wire has launched with Part One of a periodic series, "The Terrorism of Racism," by news wire founder Hazel Trice Edney, formerly of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service.
Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.
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