Black lawmakers in Mississippi are pushing back against House Republicans and their decision to create a separate court system to judge and police the residents of Jackson, the Blackest city in America.
According to AP, Mississippi’s Republican-controlled House recently passed House Bill 1020, which would not only expand areas of Jackson patrolled by a state-run Capitol Police force but also created a new court system with judges that are appointed rather than elected by voters. All appointments would be handled by white state officials.
What exactly would House Bill 1020 do?
Despite local voters electing judges and prosecutors, the white chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court would appoint two judges to oversee a new district within the city.
The white state attorney general would then appoint four prosecutors, a court clerk and four public defenders for the new district.
The white state public safety commissioner would then oversee an expanded Capitol Police force, run currently by a white chief.
House Bill 1020 would also double the funding for the district to $20 million to help increase the size of the Capitol police force in the state.
Judges would also not be required to live in Jackson or the county where it’s located.
Black lawmakers condemned the new law
Many activists and lawmakers in Mississippi have condemned the new law, saying it would strip away voting rights and disenfranchise Black people in Jackson.
“It’s really a stripping of power, and it’s happening in a predominantly Black city that has predominantly Black leadership,” Sonya Williams-Barnes, a Democratic former state lawmaker who is now Mississippi policy director for the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund, told AP. “You don’t see this going on in other areas of the state where they’re run by majority white people.”
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has been critical of the bill since it was first introduced last month, comparing the bill to apartheid, calling it “plantation politics.”
“If we allow this type of legislation to stand in Jackson, Mississippi, it’s a matter of time before it will hit New Orleans, it’s a matter of time before it hits Detroit, or wherever we find our people,” Lumumba told AP.
Other critics of the bill say residents of Jackson nor elected officials asked for a backdoor court.
“I have not heard that anyone from the City of Jackson, Mississippi who is an elected official is in favor of this,” said Blackmon. “This is a land grab, has nothing to do with crime.”
Republicans have pushed back on claims of racism, saying the bill is intended to help the city.
“I can assure you that the bill has zero racial intent whatsoever,” white Republican Rep. Trey Lamar told AP. “There is nothing racial about the bill on its face, and there is no intent for the effect to be racial.”
Jackson, Mississippi is more than 80% percent Black, arguably the Blackest city percentage-wise in the United States.
Sadly, 33.8% of the state’s Black population lives below the poverty line.
Mississippi is the poorest state in the union; 18.8% of its residents live at or below the poverty line. The state also boasts the highest child poverty rate, with 27.9% of its under-18 population meeting federal poverty guidelines.
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