A national civil rights leader on Monday offered to be lynched himself by McCurtain County officials.
Derek Van Voast is special assistant to the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., founder and president of Rainbow Push Coalition. He was outside the county commissioners’ meeting on Monday with a group of protestors.
“At 12 noon tomorrow I want a noose hanging from this tree,” he said, “and I want the gentleman who said it’s funny to hang people to come and demonstrate what a lynching is, so people can see how sinister it is to do so.”
“So you’re going to sacrifice your life?” asked a listener.
“Absolutely, because my life is no more important than any other person when I leave here that’s going to be hung, or any other person who has (previously been hanged and not accounted for).
“Do it in the daylight, don’t do it in the dark,” Voast said.
Voast said he will discourage people around the nation from spending money in McCurtain County until the leaders involved in the recorded comments of March 6 are out of office, because the very people who have sworn to protect and serve the public pose a danger to at least some of the public.
Before the business session of Monday’s commissioners’ meeting, board chairman John Williams allowed comments from the audience which was crowded into room, along with news cameras.
Voast said at that meeting that McCurtain County has amazing people, and he believes the situation can be re-solved. He just hopes the people involved will do the right thing and step down, so this community can move on.
Steve Blankenship said he was speaking on behalf of the social conscience of the Hochatown community, and he quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian during World War II who aided the Allies.
“Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Blankenship also recommended that the county offer diversity training, because knowledge and understanding can help hearts to change.
Princess Johns said she is just a regular citizen who loves Idabel and McCurtain County and its people, and just wants to see justice for everyone in the room during that recording. She urged people to make their voices heard about what this means to them.
“Let me know what side you stand on. If you stand on that side of the fence or this side of the fence.
“I know how to deal with people who tell me who you are, but the people I don’t know, what you’re feeling inside your head, I don’t know how to deal with those kind of people. So let me know what side of the fence you stand on. You can’t be lukewarm. You’ve got to be on this side or this side. Whichever one that is, let us know so at the end of the day, we know how to deal with you, regardless if you’re an employee of EZ-Mart or the mayor of a city in McCurtain County.
“Let me know if you’re playing with my kids or you’re the coach on my t-ball team. Let me know what side you stand on. Let me know if the one sticking a needle in my arm to draw my blood at the hospital. Let me know what side of the fence you stand on.”
Johns said she is grounded here and is not going anywhere.
Pastor Jimmy Williams said he has all races in his church, and teaches them to love one another, but he sees babies growing up, and some people teaching them (racism).
If that doesn’t stop, he suggested, “for another 20 or 30 years we’re going to be in the same situation.”
Williams said he met county commissioner Jennings, and he seemed like a nice guy, but he was appalled when he heard his words.
“It doesn’t hurt y’all, it hurts us, too, because we voted for some of y’all. I voted for the sheriff. I didn’t know him, but I voted for him.
Williams added: “We shouldn’t be arguing, we shouldn’t be fussing. Wrong is wrong and we need to make wrong right.” He said those involved need to step down.
“I will say,” said commissioner Williams, “that when I stepped up to be county commissioner, there were probably 30 to 40 people in my district who could do this job better than I could, but they didn’t sign up for it.
“I’m here, and I’m going to do what I think is right, the best that I can do. All I ask is that you pray and be with me, as I do my job.”
Charlesetta McElroy said she is worried that so many must rely on the sheriff’s department for protection, but may not know now if the officers want to help them or hurt them.
“It’s bad to think in the back of your mind, is this sheriff actually going to help us, or is this person here to do us harm?”
Jim Green expressed a concern to commissioners about what could be a huge amount of litigation hitting the county because of the actions of the sheriff’s office and jail administration.
“We as ratepayers and taxpayers and landowners, we can’t afford this. Something’s got to be done. Those people need to be talked to, and if they don’t take action…I realize you don’t hire and fire them, but you control their purse strings, and if it takes it, I recommend you control the purse strings of that department, because something’s got to be done.”