West Memphis revisited 

Race-divided city now finds blacks pitted against one another.

Page 4 of 7

On May 8, 2010, 20 members of the Crittenden County NAACP signed their names to a letter requesting a meeting with Catha-Jones, who responded by letter that the chapter must follow "protocol" and that such a meeting would be out of order.

Catha-Jones' actions satisfied neither the members of the reform group nor some black members of the City Council. Catha-Jones had a history with the City Council: According to the Evening Times, in 2009 she had "come under criticism from several [black] council members for intervening in city affairs." Councilman Coleman said that a press conference held by Paudert with her sitting next to him "was an example of the police chief getting Jones to say whatever they wanted [Jones] to say." Other members questioned her authority. "Council members also voiced displeasure when it was announced that Catha-Jones was notified of [the hiring of] a temporary internal affairs director at the police department before the council was told of the change." Her response was that the community had to work with the police.

Neither the national or state office of the NAACP took steps to address the complaints of the reformers. So the decision was made to challenge Catha-Jones directly by contesting the next election of officers, to be held on Nov. 15, 2010. The reformers, including Brown, gained control of the election machinery by electing one of their group, Bass, as supervisor of the Election Supervisory Committee of the Crittenden County NAACP. The election would prove to be a rowdy affair. When, as expected, Dale Charles came from Little Rock to "supervise" the election at the Neighborhood Center on East Polk Avenue in West Memphis, he was removed from the premises. Reformer Shabaka Afrika was elected president.

Bass filed a lawsuit on Dec. 30, 2010, in Crittenden County Circuit Court to require Catha-Jones to accept her defeat and turn over all property of the organization to Afrika and arguing that Charles had no authority to intervene.

After a hearing on Feb. 2, 2011, Judge Hill found that the new election was valid and that the old officers had "failed to follow proper procedures to contest [the] election." Catha-Jones was ordered to turn over property of the NAACP in her possession to new president Afrika. Apparently following the advice of the state and national offices of the NAACP, Catha-Jones refused to comply with the court's orders.

On March 8, 2011, Hill found Catha-Jones to be in "willful contempt of this court's orders" and ordered her confined to jail "for 30 days, or until such time as she complies with the orders of this court." She would spend three days in jail. Her non-compliance cost the national office a total of around $5,000, depending on how one figures it.

In an order dated March 31, 2011, Hill further detailed his reasons for his detention of Catha-Jones, stating in part, that the evidence had showed that "Charles had no other business in Crittenden County that evening than to impress his will upon the members of the Crittenden County NAACP, and to usurp the election in favor of his friend, Catha-Jones. The deputies acted properly in escorting him from the premises. These officers should be commended for the restraint they displayed when confronted with a man described as 'irate' and 'irrational' by the witnesses who were present that evening and who testified at the Feb. 2 hearing."

Hill's order noted that a letter from "outside persons" (officials from the national and state offices of the NAACP) did not constitute authority to interfere with his jurisdiction and nothing would until he either changed his order or was overruled. The judge had thrown down the gauntlet to the state and national offices of the NAACP.


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