June 2, 2020 11:14:53 AM
Columbus, Mississippi, is my home. I was born at Baptist Memorial Hospital. I grew up on Southside dancing at the Market Street Festival each year and playing in the clay of the Tenn-Tom waterway. I moved out of state in 2014 to pursue my career. I miss my family, the giant magnolia trees, and that musky smell after it rains. But I have to admit, in some ways I felt relieved. Outside of Mississippi, I have found a community that better aligns with my political and religious values.
As a woman raised in Mississippi, I've had a taste of what it feels like to be treated as less important. I've been belittled, ignored, and "put in my place" because of my gender. Worse, I've been touched in ways that I didn't want to be. But as a white person, I have also been given opportunities and resources that would not have been available to me if my skin was a different color.
For example, when I was a new driver, I was pulled over a handful of times for various traffic violations, like driving without my lights on at night or speeding. I was never scared of the police officers that pulled me over and only once received a ticket. It was obvious they did not see me as a threat and automatically trusted me because of the way I look. I was once pulled over for speeding and for failing to buckle my seatbelt on Hwy 50. I told a quick fib to get out of the charges. I wasn't questioned by the officer. He just looked at me sternly and sent me on my way. No ticket and barely a warning. I continued on about my business knowing that was likely the worst thing that was going to happen to me that week. This is my privilege.
This is not the experience of many of our neighbors of color, especially our black neighbors. Ricky Ball died in 2015. He was shot in the back by Canyon Boykin, a now ex-police officer, after a car he was riding in was pulled over. This traffic stop was very different than the ones I experienced. Mine ended with a light tap on the wrist and his ended with two bullets in his back.
Ricky Ball was supposed to have justice, but just a few days ago, Mississippi's Attorney General, Lynn Fitch, dropped the manslaughter charges against Canyon Boykin with seemingly little explanation. Doing so while the nation is grieving and protesting the killing of George Floyd completely disrespects the challenges that non-white communities face due to the racism that serves as the foundation of our political, legal, and social systems.
After hearing that the case had been dismissed, for a moment I felt glad I left Mississippi. I'm so angry and ashamed of my home state. But that's my privilege talking. The truth is, across the country, black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. This is happening everywhere.
I applaud leaders like State Representative Kabir Karriem, District Attorney Scott Colom, Chief of Police Fred Shelton, and the many community members that have publicly spoken up to condemn the Attorney General's dismissal of this case. I ask everyone reading this to please email Attorney General Fitch ([email protected]) and express your deep disapproval. Her actions are not upholding justice; they are perpetuating racism.
Hailey Hawkins was born and raised in Columbus. She now lives in Boulder, Colorado.
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