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Sheriff’s inaction could cost us dearly in crisis

I propose a round of applause for our mayor. He has been swift, decisive and ahead of the curve when it comes to protecting this community.

It was unfortunate that his recommendations had no teeth until our reluctant governor finally gave into common sense and declared a shelter-in-place order for the entire state, allowing our community to actually enforce necessary protocols to protect us from this unprecedented event.

Unfortunately, not all of our community leaders are as dedicated to protecting us as Grennell.

Particularly, Bishop Stanley Searcy and Sheriff Travis Patten. Stanley Searcy, pastor of New Hope the Vision Center Missionary Baptist Church, committed the dangerously irresponsible act of leading a Palm Sunday service of 250 people in direct violation of Gov. Tate Reeves’s executive order, saying that, “I have a right to my worship … No law enforcement has the right to tell me that I can’t congregate.”

This is categorically false. The governor’s decree does, in fact, prohibit church gatherings of this sort.

Searcy defends his actions by saying it is his “right” to worship freely. This is true. In this country we all have the right to worship freely, but not in a way that allows us to destroy the rights of others. In this case, the right to life.

By being fiercely negligent by going ahead with traditional church services in these dangerous times, his actions could facilitate the spread of an infectious disease that sickens multitudes of people and kills some of the most vulnerable among us, our elders.

It should be tantamount to attempted manslaughter, but the law has deemed it a simple misdemeanor. Either way, he should be punished to the full extent of it.

That’s where our local law enforcement should step in. However, there is one problem. Travis Patten, our sheriff, is also a member of New Hope the Vision Center.

Instead of stopping Searcy, Patten had this to say, “I’m not coming to anybody’s pulpit and snatching them off of holy ground. I’m not going to do that. Whatever happens will happen outside of the church and we will deal with it.”

It seems that Patten wants to try the diplomatic approach and play politics after the crime has been committed. This is unacceptable.

After the church service, the damage has already been done. The people have congregated, the virus has spread, and the purpose of the law has been subverted.

As someone who has survived COVID-19 we know the sheriff is aware of this.

He should be willing to immediately close any and all institutions that refuse to comply with these absolutely necessary orders. If this kind of defiance was shown at a bar, a daycare, a book club meeting or anything else, Patten would have no problem enforcing the law. Instead, this happened at a church. His church. He faltered in his duty.

As I write this, the disease has just claimed one of our own, the first resident of our county. This is not the time for politics or diplomacy, this is a time for decisive action.

If Patten won’t take the actions necessary to uphold the law and protect his community in these trying times, what faith can we have in him at any time?

Joshua T. Burke,

Natchez Resident