In another sign of the deep rift in Mississippi between white state lawmakers and Black residents of its capital, Jackson, the N.A.A.C.P. is suing state leaders over two new laws that it says create a “separate and unequal” structure involving the police and courts in the city.
The laws, passed by the overwhelmingly white and Republican Legislature and signed on Friday by Gov. Tate Reeves, also a Republican, establish state control of policing and the judicial system in much of Jackson, something not done in other cities in the state, according to the N.A.A.C.P. The city’s leaders are mostly Black and Democratic, and 80 percent of its 150,000 residents are Black.
One of the laws, Senate Bill 2343, extends the jurisdiction of the Capitol Police from a compact district surrounding state government buildings to broader areas of the city, where tension already exists between Black residents and the Capitol Police over officers’ conduct. The other law, House Bill 1020, establishes a new court system overseeing Jackson’s downtown, with judges and prosecutors who are appointed, not elected.
Proponents of the laws have insisted that they are needed to help reduce crime in Jackson, which has a higher murder rate than much of the nation, and assist the city’s police force.
Mr. Reeves praised the laws for strengthening public safety. “The fact is that Jackson has so much potential. It is our capital city and the heart of our state. It is where I have lived for over one-third of my life,” he said in a statement after signing the bills. “But Jackson has to be better.”
He added that the legislation is not the complete solution to crime. “But if we can stop one shooting, if we can respond to one more 911 call — then we’re one step closer to a better Jackson,” he said.
But the House Democratic Caucus has called the House Bill 1020 a “racist, unconstitutional power grab.” Only one of the 54 Black lawmakers in the Legislature, a political independent, voted for the measures.
Republicans and Democrats agree that crime is a major issue in Jackson. The N.A.A.C.P. lawsuit filed Friday, however, states that the measures are unconstitutional because they discriminate against Black citizens and “unlawfully erode” their political power.
“Under this new regime and unlike in any other jurisdiction in Mississippi, in certain areas of Jackson, a citizen can be arrested by a police department led by a State-appointed official, be charged by a State-appointed prosecutor, be tried before a State-appointed judge, and be sentenced to imprisonment in a State penitentiary regardless of the severity of the act,” the lawsuit reads.
The racial implications of the bills became a flashpoint during debate of House Bill 1020, which creates a new court system within Jackson’s Capitol Complex Improvement District, a downtown area that includes the State Capitol and Jackson State University.
“See, I’m Black. I know you all can see that,” House Minority Leader Robert Johnson, a Democrat, said on the House floor in March. “There’s a judge in this city that may be appointed by a CCID court that will look at me and say, ‘Maybe you need a night in prison.’”
During that same debate, Representative Trey Lamar, a Republican and the bill’s sponsor, shot back against critics of the measure, saying, “If I have to stand here and listen to being called a racist because I’m trying to do the right thing, we’re going to talk about the color that matters. And that’s the red that flows in my veins and yours alike.”
The clash over the legislation adds to the woes in the city, which, in addition to facing crime rates that spiked during the pandemic, has long struggled with underinvestment and a flight of residents to the suburbs, resulting in diminished funding for city services like the water supply, trash pickup and road repairs.
Residents continue to face a water shortage, and in February the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a separate N.A.A.C.P. lawsuit that was filed in Jackson that challenged state redistricting efforts. As a result, the state Legislature, instead of federal courts, will now draw its own districts, something that has not happened in two decades.
Also, relations between Jackson residents and the Capitol Police remain strained. In September, officers fatally shot a 25-year-old Black man, Jaylen Lewis, as he sat in a car with his girlfriend. Officials said the shooting had occurred as the officers were attempting to make a traffic stop.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation opened an inquiry into the fatal shooting. It remains open, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Public Safety said on Friday.
Michael Wines contributed reporting.
Source: Read Full Article