Mississippi officials say no laws were broken by a man seen wearing a T-shirt with racist imagery to the polls in the northern Mississippi town of Olive Branch on Tuesday.
The viral photo, circulated on social media, showed the unnamed man sporting a white tee emblazoned with a Confederate rebel flag and a noose with the words “Mississippi Justice.” The image sparked fierce backlash across the Midsouth community that includes nearby Memphis, Tennessee.
“It’s a sad time that people still have that mindset,” resident Clarence Walker told FOX 13. “There’s no reason you should fear the person next to you.”
DeSoto County election commissioner Barry Chatham said he was aware of the image, which began floating around Twitter on Tuesday. Along with the image came allegations that the man in the photo was actually a poll worker, a claim Chatham flatly denied.
Moreover, the election commissioner insisted poll workers at the Summershill Volunteer Fire Department Station in Olive Branch didn’t remember seeing the offensive shirt.
“All agreed that if someone had came in wearing that shirt, they would have remembered,” Chatham said in an interview with Clarion-Ledger.
However, a woman named Ashleigh Parker said she recalled seeing the man in question when she was at the precinct to vote. She also confirmed he wasn’t a poll worker, just another voter who was using an overflow machine near the front where some of the poll workers were sitting.
“I was in line with my boys at the same time,” Parker wrote on Twitter. “I was disgusted and horrified. We all were. He does not speak for the majority of our city … I wish I had spoken up but I didn’t want to bring attention to him.”
Chatham told the Clarion-Ledger the man became disgruntled after waiting more than an hour for the arrival of a provisional ballot. In the photo, a poll worker is seen assisting him at the machine designed for disabled people.
On social media, critics argued the man’s shirt could be interpreted as voter intimidation, or even hate speech, and that it should be unlawful to wear such clothing at a polling place. Chatham pointed out, however, that the only forbidden clothing at a precinct would be a T-shirt bearing the name of an active candidate.
The secretary of state’s office echoed Chatham’s point in a statement Wednesday, noting that “statute does not stipulate a dress code for voters inside polling places.” The agency said it has referred complaints over the incident to the proper authorities.
“This office, however, does not condone the propagation of violent or offensive messages of any nature during the voting process,” a department spokeswoman said.
As of now, officials are not investigating the incident.
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