One of my friends made a pretty keen observation during the last football season about an overplayed commercial featuring then-State Treasurer Lynn Fitch.
While I can’t recall exactly what it was plugging, the commercial featured the eventual Mississippi attorney general around a bunch of football players in generic uniforms before someone throws a ball her way, which she manages to catch.
“Lynn Fitch has never dropped a pass,” my buddy tweeted, referring to how often the commercial was aired during that particular Mississippi State football game.
This week, though, Fitch dropped the ball in front of a national audience, at a time when it could be said the game was on the line for race relations in Mississippi.
In a brief press release, and without contacting local authorities, Fitch’s office dismissed the manslaughter charge against former Columbus Police officer Canyon Boykin, who faced trial for the killing of Ricky Ball, a 26-year-old black man who was shot to death during a traffic stop in 2015.
Boykin has been out on bond since his indictment in 2016 and was fired by the city immediately following the shooting, so the case, also likely due in part to the ongoing pandemic, was at a kind of standstill.
Had it dragged on for too long? Sure. But justice is a slow process, not one to be stumbled through.
I’m not here to debate Boykin’s innocence or guilt, though. That’s for a jury to decide, which now seems highly unlikely to ever happen.
What puzzles me is why Fitch chose perhaps the worst possible time in the last five years to throw the case out — a moment in history where two high-profile killings, including the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, are at the front of the national psyche.
Did Fitch have the hope dismissing the charges during this crisis would send a message to Mississippi’s cops that she has their backs?
I’m only speculating, but coming from a family of cops, I think I can say with some degree of understanding that you show police officers support by maintaining the due process that protects us all — not by protecting the bad cops so they can continue to make the good ones look bad.
Was the decision a political one, to undermine the original case made by former Democratic Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Jim Hood? Possibly, but if her goal was the undoing of Hood’s legacy of letting crooked cops off easy, then I’m not sure dismissing Boykin’s charge accomplished said goal.
Was it a roll of the dice to see if a dismissal would garner as much support and action among the state’s conservative white voters as the murder of George Floyd has among the protestors taking to the streets across the country?
Honestly, who knows?
And I say that because Fitch’s office has yet to provide transparency with respect to the dismissal — all at a time when people are taking to the streets and causing property damage in the cities of this land to express their frustration with the status quo.
The decision by Fitch was hateful at worst and clueless at best and it must be rectified, if by nothing more than transparency.
It’s important to point out at the center of this controversy, a man is dead and a family is forever broken. On the other side is a career in law enforcement that is over, with a department and city’s reputations tarnished because of the actions of one man ... actions that never even received due process and consideration.
But in five years, here we are, no closer to justice as the accusations were cast off without ever making it to a jury trial.
This is a time for not only groups to voice their opposition to this miscarriage of justice, but for the common citizen to stand up and be heard.
It’s not about condemning a man based on public opinion, but seeing that due process is followed to its fullest extent.
Thankfully, District Attorney Scott Colom has been vocal about the lack of transparency and it’s my hope, and the wish of others, that he will continue the fight.
Colom has proven effective at shaking up the status quo and is sure to be a champion for justice in this case, regardless of if the courtroom narrative ends here.
The news is still fresh and the response still in its early phases, so it’s difficult to predict what will result from Fitch’s decision. It has certainly prompted anger that is sure to grow in concert with the swelling national frustrations, so it might be prudent of Fitch and her administration to acknowledge the optics of the decision and work diligently to provide the rationale and evidence of this case to the public, before assumptions take on lives of their own and manifest in further divisiveness.
Ryan Phillips is the executive editor of the Starkville Daily News and Daily Times Leader. The views expressed in this opinion column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the aforementioned newspapers or their staffs.