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Jackson Police and Courts Takeover Falls Along Racial Divide

Jackson is Mississippi's capital, and its largest city. It is more than 80 percent Black, as are most of its elected leaders, judges and police officers. So there was no mistaking the racial overtones in the vote earlier this month by the white-majority state House of Representatives to establish a separate court system for the slice of Jackson where the minority of white residents live, run by state-appointed judges and served by a state-run police force, effectively supplanting the existing Hinds County courts and city-run Jackson Police Department, the New York Times reports. The proposed court system and police force would be controlled almost exclusively by white officials. For many prominent Jacksonians, this evoked earlier eras in Mississippi’s complicated racial history. After the House vote, the city’s Black Democratic mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, minced no words, likening the legislation to colonization. “Some of the other legislators, I was surprised that they came half-dressed because they forgot to wear their hoods,” he said.


The bill’s chief sponsor, state Rep. John Thomas “Trey” Lamar, a 43-year-old Republican from Mississippi’s rural northwest, said his bill was a sincere effort to solve two of Jackson's most pressing problems, soaring crime and a huge backlog in the courts. “There’s absolutely nothing about House Bill 1020 — when I say nothing, I mean absolutely zero — that is racially motivated,” he said in an interview. However, both Black and white critics have accused GOP lawmakers of effectively creating a separate court and policing system for a white population that already enjoys the city’s lowest crime rates. “It feels like the kind of reactionary, prejudiced, provincial, anti-democratic reaction that takes Mississippi back 60 years,” said Cliff Johnson, a University of Mississippi law professor. Lamar and other supporters of the measure point out that the population of the enlarged district would be 55 percent African American. But Jackson’s white community is so small that including most of it in the new district would still leave as many as seven or eight out of 10 Black residents outside its boundaries. Whatever the Republican- and white-dominated state Senate now does, state Sen. John Horhn, a Black lawmaker who represents the Jackson area, called this “the most toxic atmosphere between the city and the legislature that I’ve seen in my 31 years” in the office. But, for all the acrimony, concern about the city’s decline crosses political and racial lines. “This is not a situation where there’s unanimous support for the mayor and Jackson police in the Black community and harsh criticism in the white community,” said Johnson, who opposes the legislation. “It’s not that simple.”

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