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Bryant: You go get ’em

The facilities at Brandon City Hall couldn’t be nicer, and that huge flag draped behind the podium provided an impressive backdrop. Still, it was a hard commencement speech to give. Standing Monday before a crop of new narcotics agents, Gov. Phil Bryant described the early morning call he received two days prior.

“I knew it wasn’t good news,” he said, referring to Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher’s name as it popped up on his phone. “I immediately asked what was wrong, and he told me that the Brookhaven PD had suffered the loss of two officers.” The governor went on to describe tragedy compounded — a second call that came the next morning informing him of a state trooper’s death. In a room filled with officers and agents and the proud families of 19 graduating members of Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Class 22, this was more than the recitation of bad news. It was reeling reality.

“We are here with heavy hearts,” Bryant acknowledged. Then the caveat. “But we don’t want to diminish your celebration.”

And so they were celebrated, these new agents whose names could not appear in the shiny program because of necessary anonymity. That’s how it rolls in the war on drugs, you see. Out in the audience, though, state senators and representatives watched video of the agents’ eight weeks of specialized training in shooting, swimming, wrestling, defensive tactics, interrogation, emergency driving and public speaking (for court). The platoon leader reminded them of their class motto — success without integrity is failure. Another told how a pool of some 500 applicants was whittled down to 19. Commissioner Fisher joked about their attire: “There’s plenty to do out there. Lose the suits.”

But it was Bryant, a former officer turned politician, who captured my attention. Perhaps I’m imagining it, but the governor seemed especially free with his comments. Maybe he’s emboldened by the twilight of his tenure, or maybe it was just his passion for law enforcement. I don’t know. But he didn’t hold back on Kaepernick or legalizing marijuana or much of anything else. He even speculated about the accused in the weekend slayings. 

“I can assure you that as the investigations are completed, the suspects who took the lives of these law enforcement officers were under the effect of some drug or selling some drug or had been involved in the drug trade. It all comes back to that. It all comes back to that,” he lamented with a shake of his head. Looking directly at the new agents, the governor added, “You have an important job to do.”

According to the fine print on the graduation program, the mission of the MBN is to reduce the availability of illicit controlled substances within the state. Bryant had strong words regarding the movement to remove certain drugs from the “controlled” category. 

“There are those in this nation who think we ought to just legalize drugs, ought to just let everyone have them,” he stated. “They have no idea.” Turning to law enforcement veterans on stage, he asked, “How many murder cases have we worked when the suspect was under the effect of an illicit drug? How many, when they got clean and sober, said, ‘I can’t imagine what I did. I just didn’t realize what I was doing.’ Legalize? How tragic that day will be.” 

On a personal note, Bryant admitted to a sort of recklessness during his days as an undercover narcotics agent in 1978: “I was 23 years old, working undercover, buying illicit drugs from dealers, kicking open doors, chasing suspects through the woods. I believed I could do anything.”

He told of his wife Deborah bringing their first Christmas dinner to his patrol car during a stakeout, and he recalled how hard it was on her when he worked all hours of the night. Bryant then urged the graduates to think of their beautiful babies he’d observed in the crowd: “Be careful. I’ve been there when the intensity and the excitement lead you to put yourself in harm’s way. Nothing is worth another call. Go home to them.” 

Not exactly the rally cry one might expect at such an event. The governor even said that when things get too dangerous, the agents should back off.

“We’ll get them again,” he advised. But after mentioning a few key phrases from Psalm 23, he concluded by calmly saying what had to be said — what everyone there in that auditorium knew must be said — even as Mississippi’s law enforcement community walks through the valley of the shadow of death.

“We’re emotional today. We’re saddened,” Bryant acknowledged. “But the bad guys are still out there. You go get ’em.”

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.