‘Do your homework before you go trashing a city that depends on tourism’: Natchez mayor attacks Democrat’s crime coverage

Published 10:50 pm Tuesday, January 25, 2022

NATCHEZ — An angry Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson excoriated The Natchez Democrat for publishing a front-page article on Sunday about a Natchez resident whose house was struck by bullets during a shooting on Jan. 11, saying the newspaper was “grabbing headlines.”

The Democrat’s article told the story of resident Michael Boykin and his efforts over the last few years to draw attention to what he said is a dangerous area of Natchez. Boykin said he had been alerting Natchez police to issues near his house for more than a year, but stopped in October, feeling as if his efforts were falling on deaf ears. In the article Boykin expressed his frustration with an ongoing situation near the Zipy convenience store behind his house, which fronts MLK Street. It came to a head on Jan. 11 when stray gunfire penetrated his home.

The crux of Gibson’s anger was that the newspaper reported Boykin’s opinion that Natchez is a dangerous city.

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“It is important when we are looking at crime statistics in Natchez, that we do our homework and exercise due diligence,” Gibson said in the meeting. “There have been things said publicly that have been untrue, that have been inaccurate that I believe are being shared for the purpose of grabbing headlines and if you are going to report a story, you need to report all sides of that story. You should do your homework and at the very least, always call us for a response.”

Kevin Warren, publisher of The Democrat, said the newspaper stands by its coverage of the crime issues in the Natchez community and the story in question.

“We have repeatedly published articles presenting the mayor, aldermen and police department responses and plans to address crime – including sharing on our website the mayor’s video about having a plan to address crime. But we also are responsible for giving voice to the people of our community who are directly impacted by crime, like Mr. Boykin,” he said. “This story shares one of those voices, and we plan to continue publishing more stories and more voices in the future.”

Gibson said Natchez is “one of the safest cities in this country, and one of the safest cities in this state, and I have the statistics to show it.”

He shared crime statistics comparing 2020 with 2021 in Natchez, saying that 2020 had five murders, and 2021 had four; 2020 had 64 incidents of aggravated assault when 2021 had 53; 2020 had 260 burglaries while 2021 had 185; 2020 had 30 grand larcenies when 2021 had 23; 2020 had 182 petty larcenies when 2021 had 138; 2020 had 341 simple assaults when 2021 had 294. He also said the city had 12 murders in 2018 and only four in 2021, a 67% improvement.

“We are working too hard on this Natchez renewal to allow hearsay and gossip and all of the other emotionalism that gets involved to cloud the issue,” Gibson said. “Where do you get off saying Natchez is a dangerous city? I’m sorry, but I beg to differ. Our statistics prove that we are headed in the right direction and that we not only sit on the highest bluff but on the safest bluff.”

Gibson said since he has become mayor and Joseph Daughtry has become police chief, they have replenished the police department’s fleet of vehicles, adding 13 new police vehicles.

“We have the newest and best-looking fleet in the state. We have replaced some vehicles that when I became mayor were hardly even capable of being driven on the road. Some of them had as much as 250,000 (miles) on the odometer.”

He said the city received a $55,000 grant recently for a new radio system and have spent $18,000 on new uniforms.

“We found that some of our officers only had one change of pants and we found that deplorable,” Gibson said.

“These statistics didn’t happen overnight. They happened over the last year because we have been smart and we have been addressing crime…It’s because we are investing in the men and women who put on the badge. While the rest of us sit at home or sleep comfortably in our beds, these men and women are out every day and every night and we have sworn in 16 since October. We right now have more police officers than we have had in years and yet you’re going to call us a dangerous city? I beg to differ.”

Gibson went on to detail how the city’s police department is working to get guns off the street with its new VIPER (violent immediate police emergency response) squad, formed in the fall, and its new SWAT (special weapons and tactics) unit, formed in December.

After chastising the newspaper and Boykin, who was in attendance at the meeting, Gibson proposed two ordinances. One of those strengthened an ordinance already on the books for discharging a weapon in the city. It calls for 30 days jail time for first offense and a $1,000 fine and 60 days jail time for second offense, as well as confiscating the weapon without its return.

Gibson also proposed an ordinance that sets up criteria for nuisance businesses and allows the city to close the business or limit its hours or what it can sell.

Both ordinances passed at Tuesday’s meeting.

“It’s time to report on positive things…,” Gibson said. “Yet it seems like we took no action. I take issue with the article in the paper that gave us no opportunity for rebuttal and yet appeared that the City of Natchez is doing nothing. I dare say we are doing much, and I resent it when the implication is we are doing nothing when I know as Mayor of Natchez I am working harder than any human being can to address it and keep everyone involved informed,” Gibson said.

In fact, The Democrat reported on the city’s pondering of a chronic nuisance ordinance on Jan. 13.

The new ordinance defines a chronic nuisance as a business property on which three or more nuisance activities occur or exist during any six-month period, and/or property on which continuous or repeated nuisance activities have occurred.

Examples include any condition or hazard that creates an immediate and present danger to life, property, health or public safety. And, any building or place that has been operated or maintained in a way that has resulted in repeated disruptive activities including disturbances of the peace, public drunkenness, harassment of passersby, sale of stolen goods, acts of vandalism loud noises, particularly in late night or early morning activities

Gibson said a warning letter “shall immediately be posted on the property and a summons to appear before the mayor and board of aldermen. This mayor will call a special meeting within a day where this is shown to be the situation.”

“We can immediately require action deemed to be in the best interest of our city. We can restrict their hours, can require them at their expense to install cameras that will sync with the city cameras,” he said.

“Aldermen, ladies and gentlemen, we have before you a report that shows that we are making tremendous progress, a report that shows, to the contrary of the front-page spread of the newspaper of Mississippi’s number one tourism city that irresponsibly named us a dangerous community. The statistics prove otherwise and I would ask any journalist and any responsible newspaper to do your homework before you go trashing a city that depends upon tourism, and I would also like to say any homeowner, we understand your concern and your grief, but understand, there are people living in this city in areas where their doors are not even locked and have business owners who have put their life into their business and have invested their hard earned life savings into businesses here, a city that is safe. They deserve more than a local media and local citizens who would throw their businesses under the bus just because of isolated incidences,” Gibson said.