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Will Mississippi Capital Get A Separate Justice System?

Mississippi's Gov. Tate Reeves has until Friday to sign a bill that would create a separate police force and court system for Jackson, the state’s capital city. The bill is controversial for its subversion of local control and for its construction of a system in which white state officials will appoint the people in charge of the criminal justice system in a majority-Black city, The Intercept reports. Hinds County, which includes Jackson, would become the only municipality in the state that doesn’t elect its own prosecutors and judges. The bill is an extension of efforts to control and undermine the voices of the Black people who live in Jackson, said Rukia Lumumba of the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project and a candidate in the upcoming Democratic primary for a state House seat north of Jackson. “We are finding ourselves jumping back to days of Jim Crow, days of apartheid,” she said, “where we’re seeing this theory that Black people can’t govern, that Black people can’t make decisions for themselves around who is best suited to represent them in governing processes and that Black people can’t create their own safety.” The bill is part of a response to Jackson’s murder rate, which spiked in 2020 as it did elsewhere around the nation.

The bill was written by Republican state Rep. Trey Lamar, who framed it as an effort to make Jackson “safer” and to help its residents. The effort to create a special justice system around Jackson should be seen as a national backlash to the elections of progressive and reform-minded officials, said Lumumba. “We’re seeing attacks in so many places where we saw so many wins,” she said, pointing to efforts in Missouri to restrict the power of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. Since 2020, many states and municipalities elected reform-minded district attorneys, passed criminal justice reforms, and continued efforts to improve equity in policing, housing, and health care. “What we’re seeing is opponents to those successes figuring out how to tap into municipal control and county control and use the legislature as a source to literally deprive municipalities and counties of the power that they have to govern,” Lumumba said, “to engage in systems that are more accountable to the people.” The proposed law would also expand the jurisdiction and size of the Capitol Police force, which was originally created to patrol state buildings and has recently expanded its control throughout an area dubbed the “Capitol Complex Improvement Zone.”

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