Sunday, June 7, 2009

"People Are Afraid"

Couple of things about this one: Kane Ditto was the mayor of Jackson during its gunfights-in-the-streets early '90s days; yes, it's stat-heavy; yes, my stats are correct; and yes, I supported Harvey Johnson. In fact, only Planet Weekly and the Jackson Free Press didn't support Frank Melton. The daily paper, the television stations, the radio stations, and the pundits all supported Frank Melton. Melton won in a landslide and is now considered one of the laughingstocks of the political world. Jacksonians got the mayor they deserved. Fear and stupidity are a powerful mix.

Four years after Melton was voted into office, he collapsed on the evening of the Democratic mayoral primary - where he ran against Harvey Johnson. He passed on sometime later. I managed to avoid most "God voted" jokes, but not all.

You hear it everywhere; a constant refrain from Frank Melton, from the Melton campaign, and from Melton’s followers – “people are afraid.” You hear it in conversations, you see it campaign material, you hear it on newscasts (particularly on WAPT, which long ago jettisoned any attempts to maintain non-biased reporting), and you hear it from the candidate himself – people are afraid. Do you know what you rarely hear?

“I’m afraid.”

It’s much, much harder to find someone who says this than it is to find someone who says, “people are afraid.” Certainly, there are those who are afraid to live in Jackson. WAPT manages to run useless segments on the topic frequently, even though they exist to do nothing except reinforce Melton’s assertion. I was a crime victim two years ago. I’m not afraid, and I think that most people are not afraid. What has happened, though, is that Melton supporters have taken up this chant, in an effort to fool people into thinking it’s true, even though it’s not. A repetitious spurious ideology does not become a fact; it is simply a spurious ideology shoved down the throats of voters. I suggest the next time someone says, “People are afraid,” we respond:

“No, they’re not.”

Another quote that has become a constant rallying point comes in the form of a question – “Do you feel safer now than you did 8 years ago?” Amazingly, the Melton folks think that most people will answer no. Even more amazingly, some of them believe it. Is crime a problem in Jackson? Yes. But crime is a problem in every city in the country, and Jackson is no longer a small town; it is a city, with all that entails – good and bad.

I’d like to answer the question, but I can’t. Eight years ago, I had relocated to New England, so I can’t answer that specifically. But I can tell you, ten years ago, in the mid-‘90s Kane Ditto heyday, I lived in Belhaven Heights – oddly enough, exactly one block from where I now live. My roommates and I would spend evenings on the back porch, listening to the frequent sound of gunfire in the neighborhood. That was unsafe. Jefferson Street had a fully staffed crack house, Christo’s (where Fenian’s was before Fenian’s, youngsters) front door was shot out, and it was not safe to walk the streets at night. Now, the same neighborhood is a place where people walk their dogs safely and happily, the crack house is no more, and I haven’t heard a gunshot in over a year. Do I feel safer now than I did 10 years ago? Absolutely.

Do you feel safer now than you did two years ago? You should. The statistics are there for all to see. From 2003 to 2004, every type of crime (except homicides) went down in number. In 2003, Jacksonians were victims of 17,203 different crimes. In 2004, there were only 13,600. That’s a drop of 21 percent; a remarkable number. In 1997, when Mayor Johnson took office, there were 20,176 crimes. 1998 saw the only growth in crime in Jackson under Johnson’s leadership – 20,674 crimes. So from 1997 to 2004, the number of crimes in Jackson fell by a total of 6,576. That is a drop of 32.6 percent.

Do you feel safer now than you did 8 years ago? Again, you should. Crime is down 32.6 percent since Harvey Johnson took over. In fact, 2004 had the lowest crime rate in 24 years. Whether you know it or not, and whether you feel safer or not, you actually are safer now.

But this, too, is an attempt by the Melton camp to obfuscate the facts with a repetitious rhetoric. They prefer that you don’t know these facts; they want to scare you with their lack of them. Melton knows these facts; he has the same statistics to which everyone else has access. With one hand, he dismisses them as “artificial” in his campaign platform; with the other, he uses the same ones to tout the fact that homicides are up. (In 2003, there were 45; in 2004, 52. That’s true. And 10 years ago, there were 97. You are safer.)

Personally, I’m concerned with what I see as an upcoming crime. I see it coming, and so should you. In Mississippi, you don’t have to register as a Republican or Democrat when you register to vote (or an Independent, which is my preference). As such, at primary election time, a person can vote for either. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. Democrats would vote for Democrats, and Republicans would vote for Republicans. With Rick Whitlow running unopposed in the primary, it is a certainty that many of the city’s Republicans will instead vote Democrat and cast their votes for Frank Melton, one of their own, in an attempt to oust the mayor before the election proper.

I see this as something more than a callow action on their part; it’s an attempt to steal the election. Add this to the constant, repetitious flow of misinformation and you have a candidate not worth voting for.

I urge you to get out and cast your vote in the primary election for the man who has brought crime to a 24-year low and made the city safer: Mayor Harvey Johnson.

And remember, just because they say people are afraid, it doesn’t mean they are.

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