Mississippi Sheriff Says in Text to Elected Official: Hispanic State Lawmaker ‘Worse Than a Black Person’

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A Mississippi sheriff said in a text message to another white elected official that a Hispanic state lawmaker is “worse than a black person.”

Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson is seen in a photo on the website for the Lee County Sheriff's Department, located in Tupelo, Miss.
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson is seen in a photo on the website for the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, located in Tupelo, Miss.

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal used a public records request to obtain Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson’s messages.

The newspaper reported Tuesday that Johnson exchanged messages in 2017 with Lee County Supervisor Phil Morgan about building a new jail. Both men complained about state Rep. Shane Aguirre of Tupelo. All three officials are Republican.

A screenshot of the exchange shows Johnson wrote about Aguirre: “He’s worse than a black person, your not going to please him.”

Johnson told the newspaper he was “aggravated” with the lawmaker, who opposed a bill that would have allowed a county jail to be built outside Tupelo city limits.

“There was probably no call for mentioning anything of race,” Johnson said.

Asked if he believes black people are difficult to please, Johnson said: “I think when you play the race card, yes, it’s difficult to please some people.”

In more recent text messages obtained by the Daily Journal through a public records request, Johnson praised another white Lee County supervisor, Republican Mike Smith, after Smith criticized the practice of black elected officials forming caucus organizations. Smith singled out the state’s minority supervisors’ caucus for criticism and tried to block Lee County’s only black supervisor from attending at public expense.

In text messages to Smith in late January and early February of this year, Johnson praised Smith.

“Don’t give in,” Johnson wrote. “I support you.”

Later, Johnson wrote: “Whatever you do, please don’t let them back you down. You owe them nothing.”

Smith eventually apologized for what he called “rude remarks.”

After the apology, Johnson texted Morgan. Morgan told Johnson that Smith’s apology wasn’t surprising. Morgan had sided against Smith and in favor of Lee County’s only black supervisor on the issue.

Johnson’s verdict on the apology by Smith was blunt: “Sickening.”

In an interview with the Daily Journal, Johnson said he thinks organizations like the black supervisors’ caucus “take us back” to a “race-based mindset.”

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