Pamela Hancock, the second-term prosecutor of Madison County, defended herself Monday after posting and later deleting a Facebook comment in which she suggested “the deadly strain” of coronavirus should spread among rioters who are protesting inequity in the criminal justice system.
Hancock, who was first elected county prosecutor in 2015 and re-elected in 2019, wrote the post as a comment to another person’s post: “Does Covid spread during massive street riots or just in bars and restaurants? Asking for a friend.”
Hancock, in a since-deleted comment, replied: “We can only hope the deadly (coronavirus) strain spreads in riots!”
She has since deleted her comment but has defended her stance, saying it’s her job to punish all crimes.
“My job is to prosecute all crimes, including civil disobedience,” Hancock told Mississippi Today.
“I’m against any breach of peace or criminal activity, and I would prosecute it. I have nothing against people peacefully protesting, but breaking into businesses and stealing things is a crime.”
But when asked about her “hope” that the virus would kill rioters, she stepped back.
“I was really just making light of it,” Hancock told the outlet. “I was not serious about wanting anyone to die. That’s not who I am. The post was kind of a joke, and I was attempting to joke back. Obviously, I did it very poorly. If you ask anybody that knows me, I don’t hold any ill will towards anyone or any group. I only try to be fair.”
Brandon Jones, policy director at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Jackson, told the outlet that prosecutors should “be reflective about how we talk about these issues,” and Hancock’s post “sends all the wrong messages.”
“We worry when people like Ms. Hancock say these things because of what message it might send to people who might have to face her in court,” he said. “It erodes the public’s trust that they’re going to be treated fairly with comments like this, even if they were in jest.”
But Hancock said she “never meant to offend anybody” and the comment “was not directed toward anyone except for people that were rioting.”
“What I saw on TV seemed to be people of all races,” she told the outlet. “If you ask anybody that knows me, I don’t hold any ill will towards anyone or any group.”
“When I prosecute, I don’t look at someone’s color,” Hancock added. “I look at the crime they committed, the facts of the case … I only try to be fair.”
At least 40 cities have imposed strict curfew measures after days of violent protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, 46, in Minneapolis on 25 May.
Earlier, Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden criticised President Donald Trump for using the crisis to appeal to his supporters, saying he was “serving the passions of his base”.
On Monday, Mr Trump said he would deploy the army if cities and states failed to control the protests.