I have received a lot of calls and messages concerning Sheriff Lafayette Woods Jr.'s statement in the Pine Bluff Commercial about filing a libel and defamation lawsuit against me.
As a political activist, my duty is to hold elected officials accountable. They have a certain amount of responsibility and authority invested in them by THE PEOPLE, of which I am one. As a county-elected official, the Sheriff has the responsibility of maintaining our jail, making sure conditions are safe for detainees.
These inmates have constitutional rights. Among them is mandatory health care. I have in my possession a statement from JRMC that will confirm lack of critical medical care. There are other documents, issues and complaints I don't care to elaborate on here.
Our elected officials must be held accountable when they fail in their duty to the public. I have raised the question multiple times when someone was caught on video camera beating detainees: How was [a lieutenant] allowed to keep his job?
Instead of answering very basic questions, Sheriff Woods would seek to silence me through some proposed lawsuit. Nowhere in America can a man assault another man on video, beat him up and not go to jail for that assault; yet it happened here in Jefferson County. Why is it acceptable here?
I will tell you I had this conversation with members exploring what we can do to improve the operation of the jail and treatment of its detainees. The feedback I got can only be summarized as: "That's horrible, but..." with no real solutions to making sure the citizens of this county are safe.
So let's be clear: I have no problem calling out politicians who prove by their inaction that they should be at home and not representing us in a seat of public trust.
I understand those who rise up to tell the truth aren't always liked by those governing. Marcus Garvey had trumped-up charges put on him, was exiled and though he was born in Jamaica, he died a broken man in Europe. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad was sent to jail under the auspices of evading the draft, though he was over the draft age.
The powers of his day moved to muzzle him in the public because he shamed them for mistreating Black folks. Martin L. King, whose legacy we celebrate this weekend, went to jail because he spoke a truth that made those in authority uncomfortable.
And of course Matthew-John, in the four gospels, we read of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus because he spoke, he rose up and advocated for the poor, the weak and the disenfranchised. The opponents of Jesus petitioned the government to silence him to keep his message from spreading. They couldn't beat Jesus in a public debate, so they conspired to have the government silence him. Who else can walk in these noble servants' footsteps and call the government (elected officials) to better serve the people?
I have spoken to politicians, preachers and educators, and many agree with me; they are just too cowardly to speak for the least in our society. We say we want change, but we don't have the moral fortitude to do what brings change.
Jihad Muhammad is an activist who lives in Pine Bluff.