Recent events gives us pause to consider our freedom of speech

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Freedom of speech — powerful words filled with, with what? A certainty that you can say whatever you want? Not necessarily. Words that are filled with responsibility? Who says so and is that responsibility actually there or just implied?

I, like everyone else in Natchez, have been concerned about the crime in our town, especially the breaking in of cars and homes. Like many others, Deborah Mizell was my friend and her loss of life to me is directly related to these crimes. Like many others I was privy to the rumors on this weekend that someone had been arrested, someone had confessed, someone had been identified, someone, someone, someone. People wanted a name and they wanted it right away.

Then, because their questions were not answered on Sunday, the accusations began. His or her family would get him off, the newspaper and the Natchez Police Department were playing favorites by not telling the public who it was. I was reminded of when Deborah Mizell passed away. The rumor mill ran rampant, causing her family even more pain on top of what they were experiencing.

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Like many of you I have, over the last few weeks, received numerous e-mails regarding an incident at Wal-Mart. Several people claimed to know the person it happened to or at the very least a friend of theirs knew the person. Thankfully, the situation was found to have been nothing like the e-mail and gun toting shoppers were not running around at Wal-Mart. Rumors like that hurt our businesses and that in turn will hurt our economy. Whether you shop there or not, those employees would like to keep their jobs.

So when does freedom of speech mean total freedom?

I’m not sure of the answer to that. But passing along rumor after rumor only fuels the fire.

My name goes on my column along with my picture (yes, it’s old, and yes I will get a new one soon) and honestly that does make me think carefully about what I am going to write.

And sometimes I decide that my opinion is just that, my own opinion and not always backed up by any other reason in the world.

Sometimes I decide that opinion is worth putting out there and I am willing to take the criticism that comes with it. That means the phone calls, the e-mails and the people who stop me on the street to tell me that they disagree with me are something that I have to deal with. But it isn’t a rumor, it is written in black and white with my name on it.

So for what it is worth, here’s my opinion. I want to thank the NPD for working to solve these crimes. I know their job isn’t easy and I know they get a lot of grief and criticism. Thank you for not releasing the name of a suspect that has not been charged with anything, defamation of character is a strong thing to overcome. Thank you for taking the time to tell us about the non-incident at Wal-Mart. And after the explanation I can see why it didn’t make the news to start with.

I do understand how it feels to be on the other side of comments made about you and your family. After one article I had several people comment on how I write too much about my children and think they are perfect. Next time I wrote about a recipe and I got comments about not writing about my family anymore.

I realize you can’t make everyone happy all the time and so the comments to me aren’t a big deal.

But I do think people should be a little more responsible about what they say, especially in a time of tragedy or when tensions seem to be running high.

Christina Hall can be reached by e-mail at