TUPELO • The Lee County NAACP on Thursday night formally requested that Sheriff Jim Johnson apologize for recently discovered racist remarks, and the leadership of the civil rights organization also wants the Board of Supervisors to reprimand Johnson for his statements.
The executive committee of the Lee County NAACP met privately Thursday night and then issued a public statement on Johnson’s remarks, which were first reported Tuesday by the Daily Journal.
“This is not acceptable here,” said Lee County NAACP President Chris Traylor. “The NAACP is asking you (Johnson) to come and say, this was a derogatory statement.”
The Daily Journal made multiple attempts to reach Johnson on Thursday to ask whether he will apologize. Johnson did not respond to a phone call or to text messages.
Traylor, however, said he is optimistic that the sheriff will apologize.
“I know Sheriff Jim Johnson. I’ve been knowing him a long time,” Traylor said. “I believe he is a person who will come forward and say, I’m sorry, I made a bad mistake.”
The Daily Journal first reported on Tuesday a number of racist and inflammatory remarks made in text messages that were obtained through a public records request.
Speaking about a Tupelo area state legislator of Hispanic descent, Johnson said, “He’s worse than a black person, your not going to please him.”
Lee County’s sheriff also complained about crime in black-majority areas of the county, referred to himself as a “racist” in a seemingly sarcastic manner and praised District 2 Supervisor Mike Smith for criticizing racial minorities elected to office for the practice of meeting together as a caucus.
Traylor did not hesitate to describe the sheriff’s remarks as racist but was more circumspect in speaking about the sheriff himself.
“His comment was a racist comment,” Traylor said. “I’m not going to say he’s a racist. That’s not for me to say.”
Even as the NAACP met and spoke with the press Thursday night, Johnson held or attended a meeting of the entire sheriff’s department – or nearly the entire department – at West Jackson Street Baptist Church.
The church’s parking lot was full Thursday night, with many Lee County sheriff’s vehicles among those cars. A Daily Journal reporter observed that the meeting lasted at least an hour, or a little more, and saw Johnson leave the building.
The church has no posted service or events on Thursday night.
Johnson did not respond to requests for comment about the purpose of the meeting.
The leadership of the NAACP has not met or spoken with Johnson since his comments were reported Tuesday, according to Traylor.
Traylor indicated a desire for such a meeting, but said an apology needs to come first. He expressed a hope for “dialogue with the community.”
If the sheriff will not apologize, Traylor said the NAACP will consider additional action.
“We have not discussed that,” Traylor said. “We will go to further actions.”
The NAACP president also spoke about a desire to meet with the Lee County Board of Supervisors about the issue.
“We are asking for a meeting,” Traylor said. “We will get a letter out to supervisors for some kind of reprimand.”
County supervisors and the sheriff are independent elected, but supervisors appropriate funding for the sheriff’s department.