The Battle for Control of Jackson, Mississippi – KESQ

By Omar Jimenez and Devon M. Sayers, CNN

A pair of new laws in Mississippi are leaving Jackson divided, with some hoping to save a capital city devastated by a spike in homicides, while others see an echo of a racist past.

As part of the laws, the state of Mississippi will expand its police reach throughout the city of Jackson and implement major changes to its court system.

Democratic elected officials in Jackson call the laws a “slap in the face of our city” and a throwback to the painfully bygone era of the state’s Civil Rights. On the other hand, those who pushed for the laws say it’s a necessary public safety move for a city that has seen a sharp rise in homicides.

Jackson’s annual homicides have doubled over the past decade, peaking in 2021, when the city’s homicide rate is more than 12 times the national average, making Jackson one of the deadliest cities in the United States.

“The fact is that Jackson has a lot of potential. It is our capital city and the heart of our state,” Governor Tate Reeves said in a press release announcing the signing of the bills. “This legislation won’t solve the whole problem, 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.”

There’s no question that help is needed in the Mississippi capital when it comes to public safety, but where that improvement comes from and what it looks like has been at the center of bitter debate.

At the center of the controversy is representation. Jackson is more than 80% black and is a largely Democratic city. Mississippi’s state legislature is overwhelmingly white and Republican, with the majority representing districts outside of Jackson.

One of the bills will expand the jurisdiction of the state-controlled Capitol Police from its current boundaries around state buildings and nearby neighborhoods to the entire city, increasing the number of officers on the streets amidst a state-run Police Department. Jackson understaffed. However, the Capitol Police would not be under the direct control of local officials, but would report primarily to state-appointed leaders.

The other bill will affect court systems and establish a new courthouse within the boundaries of a state-created district known as the Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID), centered around downtown, Jackson State University, and the neighborhoods and nearby businesses. That judge will be appointed, not chosen, by the Republican state chief justice with prosecutors appointed by the Republican state attorney general to help with low-level cases.

The state will also establish a new 911 call center to answer calls within the CCID.

For the surrounding Jackson area, the Chief Justice will also appoint four “temporary special circuit judges” in addition to adding staff to the public defender’s and district attorney’s offices to help alleviate the large number of cases.

While there have been cases of appointed judges before, critics see this aspect as a slippery slope when it comes to representation.

CNN has reached out to the Mississippi Department of Public Safety about its planning to implement the new laws, but has not heard back.

A ‘dark cloud’ of crime

Now residents, local elected officials and law enforcement in Jackson, which has the highest percentage of black people of any major US city, must figure out how to make the new law work.

“We don’t want them to take over the city, but we’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Felicia Brisco, who is black and has owned a hair salon in the city for the past 20 years, told CNN.

The salon is located just inside what will eventually become a new boundary for the capitol district in a small, one-story brick building that it shares with a barbershop. A bench chained to the sidewalk stands by the locked gate where customers ring the bell to enter.

“We have this dark cloud over us with crime in the city.” Brisco said between customers. “Hair salons used to be open doors that you could walk in, but we can’t allow that anymore because you just don’t know who can walk in. So we keep our doors locked here.”

“I had a client come in and say her husband went to work and was robbed and killed. I’ve had friends get their car stolen,” she added.

When it comes to policing, the city department will now have to find a way to work with a state agency that, until a few years ago, was primarily a protection force for the capitol and surrounding areas, not involved in enforcement. city ​​law. .

And Mississippi isn’t the only state where local elected leaders are being challenged, or even overridden, by state legislators.

in Missouri, legislation is being passed give control of the St. Louis Police Department to the state, and appoint a special prosecutor before any elected, if the murder rate is high enough. In Georgia, a bill passed by the state House and Senate would create a state commission that could investigate and even punish local elected prosecutors. The bill was sent to the Republican governor earlier this month.

Like Mississippi, in both states, Republicans run the legislature, Democrats run the cities, and both situations are tied in part to public safety.

“I’ve lived in Jackson for almost a third of my life, and I want the best for Jackson,” Governor Reeves said during a news conference Wednesday, before the bills became law. “But for us to continue to see little children being killed on the streets, for us to continue to see property crimes happening here that are causing businesses to leave. We have to make sure we have law and order.”

‘You can’t stop that problem’

“We don’t have a crime problem,” the Jackson city police captain said. Christian Vance told CNN as he was on patrol in his police van.

“You look at the carjackings, or you look at the murders, or this and that and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s a crime problem.’ No, brother, that is a symptom of not valuing themselves and not valuing themselves, ”she said.

The 15-year veteran of the force added: “You can’t stop that problem.” Vance, who is black, was born in California but moved to Jackson when he was young and later graduated from Jackson State University. The son of a preacher and grandson of a freedom rider, he spoke with passion and love for the city he calls home.

“Surveillance is relationships, and without relationships it’s meaningless,” Vance said, walking past more than a few buildings that had seen better days. Some were boarded up, others with piles of rubbish out front, and some rubble piles where the buildings once stood.

Vance stopped when a resident recognized him and waved him over. Laughing and smiling, the captain got out of his patrol car and spoke to the resident, who asked him about efforts to beautify the neighborhood.

These are the same streets that the Capitol Police will now help patrol, but Vance said the key to any collaboration will be to go further.

“The community fights crime,” Vance said. “You have to do everything you can to get to know these people, gain their trust and have a relationship with them because policing without a relationship is an occupation,” he added.

“This is my place. This is my place. And I will live and die for this place,” Vance said, recalling the struggle of those who came before him, invoking the name of Jackson civil rights icon Medgar Evers, who investigated the lynching. of Emmett Till and was killed by a member of the Ku Klux Klan in 1963. The city’s international airport is named after Evers.

Governor Reeves was quick to point out that “smooth implementation is never easy” before these bills became law, and he doesn’t expect this case to be any different. “Part of my responsibility is to manage expectations,” he said.

The mayor worries about more risk with less responsibility

The city’s mayor feels the new law is an assault on black leadership.

The law “says we don’t value your voice,” Chokwe Antar Lumumba told CNN. “I think it says, ‘You are a population that is meant to be controlled, rather than supported.’ I think this is a message that we don’t believe black leadership is capable of moving forward on its own.”

Lumumba, the son of a Jackson mayor and community activist, is the youngest mayor in Jackson history. He gained national attention when the city’s long struggle with its water system reached crisis levels last year.

“We act like we are carpenters with one tool, a hammer, and everything looks like a nail,” Lumumba said of the focus on law enforcement to address city problems.

He acknowledges the rise in crime in his central Mississippi town, but attributes it to a number of factors including a lack of economic opportunity, easy access to guns and difficulties accessing health care.

“Someone who lives in northern Mississippi is no more concerned about public safety than the people who live here every day. We are more concerned and we know what our community is like and we know what the challenges are and how they exist,” the mayor said.

Lumumba was also concerned that the Capitol Police’s added responsibility over parts of his city would put its citizens at greater risk with less local responsibility.

There have been “nearly seven officer-involved incidents including the death of Jaylen Lewis,” the mayor said.

Capitol Police officers fatally shot Lewis, 25, last year. In a heavily redacted incident report obtained by CNN through a public records request, officers reported that prior to the shooting, they saw Lewis running a red light and attempted to stop traffic.

Lewis’s case has served as a rallying cry against the law, with his grieving mother testifying before a legislative committee against expanding the jurisdiction of the Capitol Police.

“It will make me fear for my safety in Jackson,” he said during a hearing last month. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, also a state agency, is still investigating the September 2022 incident.

“Anytime you find yourself in a crisis or in an area of ​​concern, what you don’t want to do is look for a solution that puts you in a worse position than the one you already find yourself in,” said the mayor, who implied that the fight for this law cannot end with the governor’s signature.

“We will use every tool in the shed to make sure our residents’ best interests are represented,” the mayor added.

On Friday, the NAACP filed a federal lawsuit to defy the law.

“Black Jacksonians need real investment in their infrastructure and full control over the future of their city. The NAACP will do whatever it takes to protect Jackson residents from the elected officials who continue to fail them,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement.

The laws will go into effect on July 1.

The CNN Wire
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