At a news conference held on Thursday, members of the Gulf Coast Interdenominational Ministers Alliance said they want the federal goverment to examine the sheriff's department's actions during the three-day black spring break in April of this year. The ministers say deputies treated African Americans unfairly and violated their rights.
"We hereby formally call upon the United States Department of Justice to initiate an investigation of the practices and procedures of the Harrison County Sheriff's Department during Black Spring Break 2001," Rev. John Davis said.
The ministers who make up the interdenominational alliance say Harrison County Sheriff's Deputies went overboard in keeping the peace during Black Spring Break. The ministers say the sheriff's department did that by blocking the young people's access to hotels, restaurants and public restrooms along Hwy. 90.
"The Harrison County Sheriff's Department deprived African Americans of their constitutionally protected rights of assembly, free travel and freedom of expression," Rev. Davis said.
The president of the Ministers Alliance says as the agency in charge of the event, the sheriff's department ticketed and towed more cars belonging to African Americans than Biloxi or Gulfport police.
"I did not witness a single car being ticketed and towed at the authorization of Gulfport nor Biloxi. I'm not saying that that did not happen, but we did not witness them following that same practice and procedure," Rev. Eddie Hartwell said.
Sheriff George Payne says he's confident if the Justice Department does investigate, it will find nothing new.
"They sat in our last planning session. A representative from the Justice Department sat there with us and told us we were doing a good job. There were at least half a dozen people from Justice Department during the event on the streets. The Justice Department was with us during the critique, and the last word they said to me was we were doing a great job. I welcome another review," Sheriff Payne said.