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Mississippi Republicans Want Their Own Cops and Judges in Majority-Black Jackson

Black leaders compare the push to expand a state police force responsible for recent shootings to “apartheid.”

People walks outside the Mississippi State Capitol on February 8, 2023, in Jackson, Mississippi.

Unable to seize power electorally in a city where more than 80 percent of residents are Black, Republicans in Mississippi are pushing legislation that would put the capital city of Jackson under the thumb of unelected judges and a notoriously aggressive state police force that answers to controversial state officials rather than local leaders.

The legislation is part of a package of bills that would put Jackson City affairs under state control and rapidly expand the state-run Capitol Police force, which is responsible for a rash of recent shootings that killed or injured Black residents and left families demanding answers. Community activists and the city’s firebrand progressive mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, describe the proposed state takeover with words like “racism,” “apartheid” and “power grab.”

Republican lawmakers, virtually all of them white, claim race has nothing to do with their proposals and they are only trying to help Jackson with a backlog of court cases and an understaffed police department. However, in a deeply Southern city with a long history of segregation, white flight and simmering tensions between Black city leaders and state politicians maneuvering to siphon off resources to whiter suburbs, politics are never so simple.

Mayor Lumumba says Republicans are exploiting their supermajority in the legislature to “undermine the self-determination” of residents living in a city with one of the largest Black demographics in the nation. Local critics say that’s par for the course in Mississippi, where the largest Black population of any state is governed by a legislature and state government dominated by white Republicans.

“These bills are an anti-democratic effort to reject the will of a majority of voters and those they elect into the hands of a few,” Lumumba said in a statement to Truthout. “Most are being drafted by lawmakers who live far outside the city limits of Jackson and have shown no interest in consulting with city leaders or residents on issues that will have a dramatic impact on their lives.”

Lawmakers from around the state spend half the year in session in Jackson, and they’ve routinely sparked power struggles with the city government since Jackson elected its first Black mayor in 1997. The latest uproar began with the recent passage of House Bill 1020, which would expand Jackson’s Capitol district and its Capitol Police force into surrounding neighborhoods that tend to be wealthier and home to bars, restaurants and the majority of Jackson’s white residents.

The expanded Capitol district would have its own court system with judges appointed by a white state Supreme Court justice, a proposal Mayor Lumumba and other residents says is a blatantly unconstitutional move to that would encourage racial profiling of Black residents. Activists say Republicans are essentially trying to create a “state-occupied, extrajudicial territory” controlled entirely by white state officials in one of the country’s Blackest cities.

After public outcry, Republicans in the State Senate drafted their own proposal. Instead of expanding the Capitol district, the Capitol Police force would be expanded and the entire city of Jackson put under its jurisdiction — on top of the existing local police force. The bill is written to give Mayor Lumumba, the local police department and the majority-Black city council no say in the matter. Rather than institute a new, unelected court, local courts would be temporarily stacked with five judges appointed not by Jackson’s elected officials or residents, but by Mississippi’s white and conservative-leaning chief justice.

Rukia Lumumba, executive director of the People’s Advocacy Institute and Mayor Lumumba’s sister, says any proposal to expand the Capitol Police would direct tax dollars toward racial profiling and heavy-handed police tactics rather than resources for public health and violence prevention that the community desperately needs. The attacks come as community groups and city leaders are building and seeking funding for non-carceral public safety initiatives, including a new Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery.

“It’s not just a system of apartheid, they are trying to bring back broken-windows policing and bring back stop-and-frisk policing,” Rukia Lumumba told Truthout in an interview. “Residents of Jackson do not have the ability to hold Capitol Police accountable.”

The Capitol Police’s role in the community shifted from patrolling government buildings to policing residents last summer after a new, tough-on-crime chief expanded patrols into neighborhoods and added “street suppression” units, according to local reports. Instead of local officials, the Capitol Police answer to Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell, who has worked with Republican leaders to beef up drug enforcement in Jackson and staunchly defended state officers and troopers accused of extreme violence.

Rukia Lumumba said the Capitol Police are perceived to act as if all Jackson residents are “armed and dangerous” and routinely profile people for drug possession based on their age, skin color and even what kind of car they drive. Mississippi has some of the nation’s harshest drug laws and the second-highest rate of incarceration next to Louisiana, all while leading the nation in rates of poverty and child hunger.

“The Capitol Police have had a very contentious relationship with residents in Jackson. Within the past 10 months, they’ve shot eight people, killing one, Mr. Jaylen Lewis, a young person,” Rukia Lumumba said. “They’ve also shot Ms. Latasha Smith, who was sitting in her apartment complex when a stray Capitol Police bullet came through and is still lodged in her arm.”

Rukia Lumumba said the victims and other residents are still waiting for answers and accountability. At a community meeting last September following the death of Lewis, a 25-year-old Black man, Tindell denied claims that his officers’ use of force is grounded in racial bias.

“I’m going to refute any undertones that this is just going after Black people … don’t tell me I’m racist,” Tindell said, adding that his officers would continue stopping crime “the right way.”

Supporters of more policing point to an alarming spike in homicides in 2021, when Jackson, like many other cities, saw an increase in gun violence fueled by pandemic isolation and deep economic desperation. Still, property crimes dropped by double digits the same year, and the homicide rate dropped by 13 percent in 2022. Rukia Lumumba said crime among young people has also plummeted since 2013, thanks in part to community activism and organizing.

Similar community-based efforts sustained residents and received international praise during an infrastructure crisis in 2021 that left people in Jackson without running water for months. However, the Jackson community gets little credit from statewide Republicans, who routinely blame the city’s struggles on its elected leaders as they seek to intervene. The Lumumbas point the finger right back.

“It’s absolutely not a failure of Black leadership and residents’ care and concern and engagement in the process to fix it,” Rukia Lumumba said, adding that she believes reported crime rates have been inflated for political reasons. “It is the willful diversion of wealth from this city and the creation of falsehoods and narratives that paint our city as ungovernable, that paint our city as the wild west of violence.”

Other bills under consideration in Mississippi’s legislature would dilute the Jackson City government’s control over sales tax revenue and its drinking water system, which became a national symbol of divestment and environmental racism last year when flooding collapsed the system and sparked a months-long crisis that pitted Chokwe Lumumba against the state’s Republican governor. Mayor Lumumba secured nearly $800 million in federal and other aid to fix the system, but Republicans introduced legislation to create a regional water authority that opponents say would allow state appointees to seize Jackson’s assets.

“Because they can’t believe that his young Black man from the this predominantly Black city was able to go over their heads and get this money,” Rukia Lumumba said of her brother.

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