Friday, August 5, 2016
JACKSON Jeffery Artis, special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, spoke to a small gathering at the former Koinonia Coffee House today about the role the department played in the Tupelo, Miss., protests over the police shooting of Antwun Shumpert on June 18.
In response to the grand jury's decision not to indict the officer, citizens held rallies, which Artis said the FBI monitored. "Saturday in Tupelo there were more law enforcement then there were individuals rallying and protesting," Artis said. "You didn't see them, but we were there."
The FBI was there not just to monitor but to also intercede with crisis negotiators if the rallies became more intense, Artis said. He explained that the agency has deployed the same type of teams of crisis negotiators in hostile situations, such as the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., to diffuse civil conflicts.
"In anticipation of potential civil unrest, if the grand jury brought back a 'no true bill,' we had a number of people there also," Artis said.
Artis said the local FBI office prepared for the grand-jury decision for weeks.
"We were probably preparing for that for two weeks, not just the FBI, state, local law enforcement," Artis said. "We were giving updates to the Department of Justice on a regular basis. It got that serious."
Artis said the only group with any real unrest were some supporters of the current Mississippi flag. "The only disturbance we had was two of the Confederate groups. The flag-support groups got into a fight with each other," Artis said.
The Mississippi FBI office deals with a number of other issues, including civil-rights complaints and human trafficking.
"Human trafficking is nothing more, in my opinion, than a fancy term for modern-day slavery," Artis said, adding that it does not matter whether it is in the sex industry or in the labor force.
Artis said human trafficking often includes traveling erotic dancers who come to perform at local strip clubs or private parties, as well as transient workers brought in for temporary jobs.
"Yeah, they have new talent because these girls can't stay in one spot too long," Artis said. "Those are the things that support human trafficking."
The local FBI office also receives and responds to civil-rights complaints, including those of police abuse and violence.
"Since I have been working civil rights, since 2011, we have seen a tremendous decrease in the number of complaints coming into our office from around the state," Artis said. "One of the things we have, is we have the chiefs of police, the sheriffs calling into the office."
Artis said these requests for the FBI to look into local law-enforcement departments for abuse is a change from the Mississippi of decades ago where abuse of prisoners was coming in the station house. "The joke used to be why is there a bucket of paint in the corner ... to cover up the blood," he said. He said that the large flashlights cops used to carry were often called "screamlights" because they were used to abuse suspects.
"You go from that to, 'Jeff, we can't have this,'" Artis said. "Because the sheriffs and the chiefs don't want to have their department to be known as someone that is just brutal, that the only way they resolve a crime and get someone to do what they want is force."
"Those days of law enforcement are gone," Artis said.
Artis spoke vehemently of the danger of health-care fraud and the lack of attention that the public pays to such crime.
"Health-care fraud is killing us," Artis said. "We will sit back and allow people in a suit to steal money every way you can imagine, but we can nail a fellow with his pants hanging around his knees for going in the Stop-and-Rob and stealing $40, $50 dollars."
"Stealing six packs of cigarettes, we are up in arms," Artis said. "We can't stand it. We move out of west Jackson. Crime is terrible. I am more concerned with these individuals stealing $500 million, and nobody seems to care."
Artis said these crimes deserve more of the public's attention.
"That's the biggest problem," Artis said. "That's where we are undermanned and understaffed. That's where the money is being stolen, white-collar public corruption. That's one of the things that we as citizens have to raise our hands and our voice about."
Email city reporter Tim Summers Jr. at email@example.com. See more local news at jfp.ms/localnews.
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