Jasper, Texas drew national attention in June of 1998 when James Byrd, a black man, was killed by three3 white supremacists. Byrd’s body was discovered by Rodney Pearson, who was the first black highway patrolman in Jasper. For a short while, the city was united, and they even tore down the segregated cemetery walls. Now, (13 years after the James Byrd incident), Rodney Pearson has been made Jasper’s first black Police Chief.
The blacks of Jasper looked at Pearson’s promotion as racial progression, but since his appointment, the white council members have asked for the city’s first election recall and the black council members who appointed Pearson as Police Chief were fired. The city is in a heated court battle with Pearson, who will likely lose his new job as Police Chief – because he is black. Three other candidates for Police Chief, who are all white, are claiming reverse discrimination in a lawsuit. Even the Mayor of Jasper, Mike Lout, has said that Rodney Pearson wasn’t qualified for the position.
The city of Jasper is roughly 44 percent black, 46 percent white, with only four black employees in the city’s police department out of a staff of 29. The city’s political system and police department have had a long history of ‘Good ole boy’ agreements, including a recent agreement between the Mayor and a friend who was currently serving as Captain, who Mayor Lout originally promised the position of Police Chief in a verbal agreement. This was prior to the black council members legitimately voting in Rodney Pearson. Since Pearson’s appointment, the wife of the Captain that was promised the position has bashed Pearson publicly on Facebook, friends included, with one even using the "N-Word" to describe Pearson.
The promotion of Rodney Pearson as the first black Police Chief in Jasper, TX has caused several media outcries and a back and forth of personal mudslinging between Pearson and Mayor Lout. As for the petition to recall Pearson’s election, an expert has concluded that many of the signatures were forged.
The black population of Jasper, TX continues to fight the proposed recall of Chief Pearson’s job. With limited access to the media (there are no black radio stations in Jasper), the political control lies with the current white council members and Mayor Mike Lout.