‘They were trigger happy’ — Citizens speak out against City’s decision on appointing chief of police

Published 5:14 pm Wednesday, April 19, 2023

“I’m pissed off to the highest level of piss-tivity.”

Rogers Circle resident Roy Smith made the comment to the Board of Aldermen Tuesday during its regular meeting, addressing the board’s decision on April 4 to change the position of the city’s police chief from elected to appointed.

“I’m pissed as to how three members of this board could take away the rights of people to vote,” Smith said. “What was the rush? … Y’all didn’t have to vote right away.”

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Smith said his ancestors and those of every other African American voter had to fight and work hard to get the right to vote, and a decision from the city’s aldermen had now effectively blocked that right.

“This is a jab in the throat, an assault on democracy,” Smith said. “There are three black members on this board who did not vote … (it) shows a lack of political courage.”

When the board voted to make the change, Alderman-at-large Don Underwood presented the motion, which was then supported in the 3-1 vote by Ward 4 Alderman Jeff Henning and Ward 6 Alderman Andre’ Spiller. Ward 5 Alderman Fletcher Grice voted against. The other three aldermen abstained, casting no vote — Ward 1 Alderman James Magee Jr., Ward 2 Alderman Shannon Moore and Ward 3 Alderman Rev. Charles Caston Sr.

Smith has appeared before the board on multiple occasions asking for an overpass bridge to be built in the downtown area to aid movement of emergency vehicles, and for the construction of a Community Education Empowerment Resource Center to educate young black citizens. He said a better use of the aldermen’s time would have been discussing these projects, rather than trying to take away the power of the people.

“All of you should be ashamed. Is there any way this vote can be rescinded or remanded?” Smith asked, directing the question to board attorney Bobby Moak.

“I’d like us to reconsider to go back from appointed to elected,” Moore said.

“Point of order,” Underwood interjected. “The statute does not allow you to go from appointed to elected, only from elected to appointed.”

Moak explained that while his reading of the state’s statute leads him to believe the matter can not be reversed at this time, he said a two-thirds vote of the members present and voting could allow the board to revisit business from a prior meeting. If that vote passed, they could make a motion to reconsider and reverse the decision. If that vote also passed, Moak would need to consult with State attorneys to see if the action could be legally implemented.

Moore then made a motion to revisit the business of the prior meeting. All seven board members were present, so at least five members would have needed to vote in favor of the motion, if everyone cast a vote. The vote was 4-3, with the three negatives from the members who originally voted for the move to appointment.

The motion failed.

“I feel like the citizens have been undermined by this board,” Smith said. “If (the effort to reverse this) fails, I’ll advocate the citizens consider a class action suit against the City.”

Penn Street resident Harold Banks also spoke out against the decision.

“I am deeply concerned about how this was done,” Banks said. “Mr. Spiller, are you aware Mississippi is one of the states making it difficult for African Americans to vote? … For you to go along with this is a travesty, bro. Know your history.”

Banks said the black community has been left out for so long and it’s time for it to stop.

“There’s plenty of work to be done here in the city,” he said. “Y’all got y’all’s focus on crap … We need somebody out there pushing us to go vote so this will never happen again.”

“They were trigger happy to make their point,” Alderman Moore said to Banks. “It was personal.”