Gather information from all sides
Published 12:01 am Tuesday, February 5, 2019
“Both sides.” I hear that term a lot lately — especially on national television news.
I’m sure you hear it, too: “Both sides of the debate… Both sides of the issue … Both sides of the aisle…”
I get it, our nation is polarized along partisan lines on a lot of issues and it fits the narrative to say “both sides” in a lot of cases even though, in my experience, more than two sides usually exist on any issue.
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Playing the middle against both ends, however, has become a favorite pastime for many people, whether in the media or just your average social media user.
Apparently, the national rhetorical tactics and political strategy of division are trickling down to the local level as evidenced by some of the campaigns shaping up for this year’s county elections, including races for circuit clerks, county supervisors, judges and sheriffs to name a few.
Last week, some people were posting on social media a video from a house search that occurred last year and purported to show Adams County Sheriff’s Office deputies turning a surveillance camera that was owned by the homeowner, so the camera could not pick up the law enforcement officers’ actions.
Some of the folks who posted the video claimed the sheriff’s deputies were conducting an illegal raid without a search warrant and said the deputies had no right to move a private citizen’s camera to obscure the view of their actions.
It also called into question the leadership of the sheriff’s office for allowing such actions.
I contacted one of the people who posted the video online and who was raising those questions. I asked to interview him, but, after disparaging the newspaper’s reporting and the media in general, the poster declined to talk to me for the story, he said, until he could get the family who owned the camera and house to participate in the interview. He suggested I go to the family myself for their side of the story.
Of course, I had already reached out to the family who owned the camera and the house that was the subject of the search, and they declined to comment, which, given the circumstances, I can understand. Also, I did something that apparently the poster of the video had not bothered to do before posting on social media allegations of wrongdoing on the part of the ACSO.
I contacted law enforcement for their side of the story.
Turns out the video in question was part of a probation check conducted by the ACSO in conjunction with Mississippi Department of Corrections, the U.S. Marshal Fugitive Task Force and the Natchez Police Department on several parolees after a spate of violence and shootings had occurred in the area.
The house in question was the known residence of a parolee who was still under the supervision of the MDOC. Parolees do not enjoy all of the constitutional rights and privileges of law-abiding citizens as they are under state-supervised release from prison.
No warrant is required to search the residence of a parolee as per terms of their early release and turning the camera to keep a possibly violent offender from monitoring law enforcement’s activities and ambushing them is understandable and acceptable in such a situation, in my opinion.
To me, the actions of law enforcement in this case prove the opposite of the malfeasance the social media poster alleged. The video showed law enforcement doing their job under difficult and dangerous circumstances in a year in which 14 people were murdered in Natchez and Adams County and in a year in which several police officers have been killed throughout the nation.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for civil liberties and if law enforcement is doing something wrong they should be called out and held accountable just like the rest of us.
As a reporter and editor, though, I also want to represent all sides of a story, but for that to happen, representatives of those sides must be willing to cooperate and stand behind their positions.
In this case, however, law enforcement’s actions appear to have been legal and if anyone had any evidence counter to that they were not willing to share it.
Scott Hawkins is editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at 601-445-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org.