As crowds of protestors gather en masse over the death of George Floyd, a Mississippi prosecutor expressed her hope on social media that the deadly viral pathogen responsible for the ongoing pandemic would spread among rioters.
Several videos circulating online depicting outraged demonstrators participating in non-violent protests across the country are seen wearing masks, but the sizable crowds make it almost impossible for participants to maintain a six-feet distance from each other.
Many of these peaceful protests have devolved into chaos allegedly due to anarchists and opportunists exploiting the cause for their own reckless amusement to destroy property and loot businesses.
In a comment that has now been deleted on Facebook, second-term prosecutor Pamela Hancock—who was first elected county prosecutor in 2015 and re-elected in 2019—wrote in response to a friend's post, titled:
"Does [the virus] spread during massive street riots or just in bars and restaurants? Asking for a friend."
Hancock's reply read:
"We can only hope the deadly strain spreads in riots!"
The backlash was swift on Twitter.
She defended her statement in a phone interview with Mississippi Today, saying:
"My job is to prosecute all crimes, including civil disobedience."
"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 Hancock was specifically asked about her comment hoping that the virus would kill protesters, she backpedaled and chalked it up to levity.
"I was really just making light of it."
"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."
But people were not swayed.
Madison County is the sixth most populated county in the state that includes at least 40,000 African American residents.
Brandon Jones—policy director at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Jackson—expressed his disappointment in the county prosecutor and said that her deleted post "sends all the wrong messages."
"It's been an incredibly difficult few days. You'd hope in moments like this that people throughout the law enforcement community and certainly prosecutors would be reflective about how we talk about these issues."
"Because she's an elected official, it's an office of public trust. Frankly, (her post) sends all the wrong messages."
Jones relayed the damaging consequences of comments such as the one Hancock claimed to have wrote in jest.
"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."
"It erodes the public's trust that they're going to be treated fairly with comments like this, even if they were in jest."
Hancock spoke about being perceived as a racist.
"I never meant to offend anybody, and it was not directed toward anyone except for people that were rioting."
"What I saw on TV seemed to be people of all races. If you ask anybody that knows me, I don't hold any ill will towards anyone or any group."
Her statement failed to appease her critics.
Hancock's role as a prosecutor includes filing misdemeanor charges—such as disorderly conduct and driving under the influence—against identified suspects.
When filing charges against an individual, she emphasized she is not influenced by the color of their skin.
"When I prosecute, I don't look at someone's color. I look at the crime they committed, the facts of the case… I only try to be fair."