Rep. Gene Alday (R) apologized to his colleagues in the Mississippi House of Representatives Feb. 17 for saying his hometown, Walls, Miss., was filled with black people getting food stamps and “welfare crazy checks.”
Alday also said that he was left waiting in a hospital emergency room behind a long line of African-Americans being treated for gunshot wounds.
“I was wrong to say what I did, and there is no excuse for my behavior,” Alday said during his apology to the Mississippi House. “I am so sorry. I made a great mistake.”
However, an examination of Census Bureau statistics — taking away racial factors — shows some truth in what Alday said. There are a lot of people on welfare in Mississippi, and the number of victims of gun violence is higher than the national average.
Alday’s comments about African-Americans in his hometown came during an interview with a newspaper reporter concerning a proposal to put more state money into public education.
Alday told the Clarion-Ledger he opposed the proposal because “all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call ‘welfare crazy checks.’ They don’t work.”
Alday also said when he was in a hospital emergency room in Walls he “laid in there for hours because they (blacks) were in there being treated for gunshots.”
Alday’s Comments on Blacks and Welfare Met with Outrage Throughout Mississippi
The reaction across Mississippi was a unified chorus of outrage.
Rep. Lataisha Jackson (D) said she was “appalled at Alday’s comments.”
“These reprehensible remarks are an attack on the character of African-Americans everywhere,” she said in a statement. “Education in Mississippi should be about all students, and we will continue to fight for all the children of Mississippi.”
Another Democrat in the Mississippi House, Rep. Jeramey Anderson, said he was disappointed that the discussion of public education funding had turned into a conversation about race relations.
“We must stand up against comments such as those made by Representative Gene Alday. They have no place in our state, and they certainly do not belong in any discussion on education policy,” Anderson said.
Rep. Chuck Espy (D) was even stronger in his condemnation of Alday.
“The Republican leadership should take responsibility for the philosophical and ideological platform of its members, including messages that are reprehensible and divisive,” said Espy in a statement. “We should lambaste Alday, and also check those who allow him the opportunity to speak.”
Fellow Republicans Also Rejected Alday’s Comments
Alday did not receive a single word of support from his own side of the aisle.
“I strongly reject his comments condemning any Mississippian because of his race,”
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) said in a statement: “Those days are long past.”
The day before his apology, Alday protested to the Clarion-Ledger that his comments were taken out of context.
“I’m not a bad person, and that makes me look like an evil person,” Alday said Monday. “I didn’t do anything wrong. The guy made me look like a fool.”
Is There Some Truth in Alday’s Statements about Guns and Poverty?
Perhaps Alday could be given the benefit of the doubt, after factoring in the Republican’s claims that he is not racist and he was the victim of faulty journalism.
Political correctness and responsible outrage against racism aside, there is some truth in what Alday said about the number of people living below the poverty line in Mississippi and the number of people who are wounded, maimed or lose their lives because of gun violence.
Alday, according to the initial newspaper report, complained his hometown was filled with black people collecting welfare checks and food stamps. If that is expanded to all of Mississippi and the racial flavor of the statement redacted, it becomes evident that Alday had a point.
What The U.S. Census Bureau Tells Us about Mississippi
It is not hard to believe a lot of Alday’s friends, neighbors and fellow Mississippians are collecting federal benefit checks of one kind or another. Census Bureau statistics show Mississippi is the poorest state in the U.S.
Nearly 23 percent of the 2.9 million people who called Mississippi home from 2009-2013 were living below the poverty line, compared to 15.4 percent of the U.S. population living in poverty.
Census Bureau statistics also show 32 percent of the children in the state and nearly 36 percent of African-Americans lived in poverty. One in five people in Mississippi received food stamps in 2012, a higher rate than was seen anywhere in the United States.
Mississippi spent more than $1.5 billion on welfare in 2011.
So, if Alday saw a lot of people on welfare in Walls, Miss., he was not alone, nor was his community the only town in the state with many of its residents living below or just above the poverty line.
Hundreds of thousands of the people who live in Mississippi are not only living in poverty, they are also living in fear for their lives.
Alday’s emergency room treatment could well have been delayed because of higher priority cases, i.e., gunshot wounds.
Mississippi had the second-highest rate of people killed by guns — 17.8 per 100,000 residents — in the U.S., according to a 2014 Violence Policy Center report. The Magnolia State trailed only its neighbor Louisiana, where 18.91 people of every 100,000 lost their lives to a bullet.
A Center for American Progress report also showed Mississippi had the second-highest gun-murder rate in the nation. In 2010, 475 people were killed by gunfire in Mississippi. That worked out to about one person every 18 hours being shot to death.
From 2001 through 2010, 4,937 people were shot to death in Mississippi, 42 percent more than the number of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq during that decade.
Enough of numbers. It is safe to assume if that many people were shot to death in Mississippi, many more were wounded or maimed and wound up in hospital emergency rooms.
All would have taken priority over Alday, since his injuries do not seem to have been life threatening.
But the real point is that if the word “black” is deleted from his statements, and racial innuendo put to rest, perhaps Alday made a strong point about life in Mississippi.