Three more McCurtain County officials must resign, because Oklahoma is not a refuge for racist and violent public officials. They do not reflect their community.
A recording of an appalling recording between McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy, District 2 Commissioner Mark Jennings, Investigator Alicia Manning and Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix features talk of lynching Black people, killing two local reporters and mocking a fire victim. Jennings resigned on Wednesday.
It’s the talk of white supremacy and power.
Do not diminish the seriousness of what was said. These are public servants discussing how to murder those they don’t like.
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Three days after the recording was publicized, Clardy made accusations that its content had been altered, and he vowed to investigate.
He also claims that it was recorded illegally. That’s hardly an excuse when those recorded are public officials in a public room after a public meeting.
We don’t trust any investigation involving Clardy, and neither should any Oklahoman.
This is the old trick of attacking the media, and such attacks have been increasing in recent years. Mounting anti-press rhetoric only bolsters those wanting to silence reporters, even through violence.
Gov. Kevin Stitt and Congressman Josh Breechen have strongly disavowed the officials’ comments and called for their resignations. Law enforcement officers ought to want these bad apples gone. They hurt the entire policing profession.
A reporter with the McCurtain Gazette-News left a recorder running after a county meeting to check for violations of the state’s open meeting law and captured the exchange.
A man who appears to be Jennings said he missed the days when law enforcement could rough up Blacks, throw them in jail and “take them down to Mud Creek and hang them up with a rope.” He also claimed to have two “pre-dug” holes for the reporters and said he knew hit men in Louisiana to do the job.
Previous state and federal lawsuits filed by the Gazette-News indicate that the county has been feuding with the reporters — a father-son team — since a series of stories in 2021 documented possible corruption in the Sheriff’s Office. The response was a refusal by county officials to provide public records.
A national organization assisted the newspaper in a lawsuit to get documents about the death of a hog-tied burglary suspect on whom a sheriff’s deputy used a stun gun.
This type of local journalism is disappearing in America. Many Oklahoma communities with daily or weekly newspapers just a decade ago now have no watchdogs over public functions or officials. This allows graft to grow.
Without the Gazette-News, people in McCurtain County would not know of the sheriff’s questionable governance or of the racist and vicious attitudes of those in public office. Just doing their jobs made the reporters targets.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the matter. The FBI and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office also have been provided the recording. More than 100 McCurtain County residents protested at the next County Commission meeting.
We are encouraged by these quick denouncements. The remaining officials must leave their positions and be investigated for connections to any other crimes.
Oklahomans must show no tolerance for racism and harassment.