JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - An organization of more than 100 black lawyers across Mississippi has deemed Madison County prosecutor Pamela Hancock’s social media comment on riots and coronavirus “offensive” and “racist," among other questionable comments made by Mississippi elected officials in recent days.
"During these times of oppression, some elected officials and others in authority are showing their true colors and their lack of respect for black Mississippians,“ said RaToya Gilmer, president of the Magnolia Bar Association.
Gilmer mentioned Petal Mayor Hal Marx’s social media comments which implied the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer was justified, attorney Jeanine Carafello’s Facebook post asking whether COVID-19 spreads through “massive street riots" and Hancock’s subsequent response, where she says “we can only hope the deadly strain spreads in riots.”
Hancock’s comment, which was subsequently deleted from the social media platform, has drawn considerable ire because the Madison County elected official then went on to defend her use of the comment when asked about it by a Mississippi Today reporter.
“My job is to prosecute all crimes, including civil disobedience,” Hancock told the publication. “I’m against any breach of peace or criminal activity, and I would prosecute it. I have nothing against people peacefully protesting, but breaking into businesses and stealing things is a crime.”
She later told reporter Adam Ganucheau she was making light of the situation, adding she wasn’t serious about wanting anyone to die.
“That’s not who I am. The post was kind of a joke, and I was attempting to joke back. Obviously, I did it very poorly," Hancock told the news organization Monday.
3 On Your Side has attempted to reach Hancock multiple times since Monday afternoon, when it became aware of the social media comment.
While Hancock declined an interview, a staffer at her law firm said their office had received threats since the Facebook remark and didn’t know whether Hancock has been instructed, presumably by counsel, on if she should speak to reporters.
Defense attorney Merrida Coxwell said he’s squared off against Hancock many times in court, and dismissed the Facebook comment as a poor choice of words that was in bad taste.
“I don’t think there’s any way on earth that Pam Hancock really meant to say ‘I hope people really get sick from the coronavirus.’ I mean, when you see people out breaking social distancing, it’d be easy to say as an off-the-cuff statement, ‘well they’re gonna get coronavirus, I hope they get coronavirus.’ Nobody really wishes that," Coxwell said.
Coxwell said he’s especially sensitive to the riots across the nation as well as the peaceful protests against Floyd’s killing.
“We had a case just like Mr. Floyd’s that went all the way to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which was a senseless death at the hands of law enforcement. But I think there’s a lot of people in the country, too, that think that everybody can protest if you want to, but you don’t need to burn buildings down," Coxwell said.
Coxwell said he doesn’t believe the comment was racist nor makes someone question whether Hancock can competently and fairly perform her duties as an elected official, adding that some of the rioters observed by reporters were Caucasian.
Gilmer, however, believes the statements from Hancock, Carafello, Marx and the recent actions of Attorney General Lynn Fitch -- who declined to prosecute a 2015 case involving a black man shot by a white Columbus cop -- speak for themselves.
“These statements and actions are a figurative slap in the face to black Mississippians. We have to trust that the justice system we are involved in daily is for us too! We have to trust that the justice system will treat us fairly and impartial at each and every level,” Gilmer said. “The Magnolia Bar Association condemns these offensive, contemptible and racist comments as well as the action of our Attorney General."
In response to a request for comment from 3 On Your Side, Madison and Rankin County District Attorney Bubba Bramlett released a statement Tuesday afternoon reiterating that Hancock’s position and the office of the county attorney is a “completely separate entity from the District Attorney’s Office.”
“She is not an employee, nor is she associated in any way, with the Madison and Rankin District Attorney’s Office,” Bramlett said.
As of Tuesday night, no Madison County officials had publicly denounced or referenced Hancock’s Facebook comment.