Workers Vanguard No. 972

21 January 2011


Mississippi’s Scott Sisters

Racist U.S. Justice: Cruel and Unusual

In October 1994, two black women, sisters Jamie and Gladys Scott, were sentenced to double life prison terms for their alledged involvement in an $11 armed robbery. On January 7 the Scott sisters were freed after 16 years of incarceration. But, with their sentences suspended, they will be on parole for the rest of their lives and have to pay the state $52 monthly. Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP, proclaimed, “The victory of their release encourages us to press on in our nationwide efforts to convince more governors to use their clemency powers to free more people who desperately deserve it.” This is the pathetic voice of black petty-bourgeois protest inspired by the administration of Barack Obama, chief overseer of racist U.S. capitalism, pleading on behalf of a few who “deserve” when 2.3 million people, 70 percent black or Latino, languish in prison hellholes.

In Mississippi the legacy of slavery is self-evident in its bloody history. The viciously vindictive frame-up of the Scott sisters reeks of the stench of this legacy. The Scott sisters had no prior criminal record. Prosecution witnesses revealed that they were all threatened by the deputy sheriff and forced to sign false statements written in advance. The jury deliberated for 36 minutes. All appeals to reverse the draconian sentence were denied.

Behind Mississippi governor Haley Barbour’s decision to grant clemency to the sisters stood the Grim Reaper. Jamie Scott, who entered prison a healthy young woman, is now suffering complete kidney failure. After enduring the abuse of prison health care, she is in the final stage of this disease. As protests over the sisters’ ordeal mounted in Mississippi and across the country, Governor Barbour made his decision. But he made it clear that a big reason for Jamie’s release was that her medical treatment was a financial burden on the state. The macabre condition of Gladys’ release is that she donate a kidney to her sister.

It should come as no surprise that Barbour treats these black women as figures in an account ledger, balancing out an expense with a kidney. In a 2010 CNN interview, Barbour was asked if Virginia governor Bob McDonnell made a mistake by omitting any mention of slavery when he proclaimed April “Confederate History Month.” Barbour replied that omitting a mention of slavery “doesn’t matter for diddly.” He added that, as Republican governor of Mississippi, he joined bipartisan Confederate commemorations with the Democratic legislature that had “done exactly the same thing in Mississippi for years.” Indeed, Mississippi did not ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, until 1995. The last segregationist Jim Crow laws were removed from the state books in 2009, deleted without fanfare in fear of a politically embarrassing racist backlash.

It should also come as no surprise that the trial judge, Marcus Gordon, would treat the lives of these black women as simply trash to be disposed. The same Judge Gordon presided over the trial of notorious Klansman Edgar Ray Killen, the Klan organizer who ordered the 1964 murder of the three civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. For 41 years Killen was a free man. Then in 2005, at age 80, he was convicted on three counts of manslaughter and sentenced to serve 60 years. A grand jury member who had reviewed the evidence stated with confidence that Killen “was the one every order went out from.” In sentencing Killen, an unrepentant race terrorist, Gordon said that “he took no pleasure in the task” (AP, 23 June 2005). Gordon showed no such regrets in sentencing the Scott sisters based on coerced witnesses.

Workers Vanguard readers are well aware of the brutally racist nature of the U.S. criminal injustice system. U.S. capitalism is based on black oppression—and its destruction will require a Third American Revolution, a socialist revolution. As we wrote in “From Slavery to Mass Incarceration: Black Liberation and the Fight for a Socialist America” (WV No. 955, 26 March 2010):

“From slavery to convict labor, from the chain gang to the assembly line, American capitalism has been built upon the lash-scarred backs of black labor. Any organization that claims a revolutionary perspective for the United States must confront the special oppression of black people—their forced segregation at the bottom of capitalist society and the poisonous racism that divides the working class and cripples its struggles.”