By Emily Wagster Pettus,
The Associated Press
Efforts by the majority-White Mississippi Legislature to create courts with appointed rather than elected judges and to expand patrols by state police inside the majority-Black capital city of Jackson amount to “Jim Crow 2.0,” a former Democratic state lawmaker said recently.
Ex-Rep. Kathy Sykes of Jackson also said people in other parts of the U.S. should pay attention to what’s happening in Mississippi because ideas in one state can spread to others. Sykes, who supports abortion rights, mentioned the U.S. Supreme Court using a Mississippi case last year to upend abortion access nationwide.
“We’re the state that took away a woman’s right to choose for her and her doctor to make decisions on her body,” Sykes said. “So if we don’t get involved around this country and around this world, we’re going to have takeovers all over the United States where there is majority-minority representation.”
The Mississippi House and Senate this year have passed different versions of bills dealing with police and courts in Jackson, which has the highest percentage of Black residents of any major U.S. city. Negotiators from the two chambers are expected to work on final versions of the bills in the next two weeks.
One of the bills is sponsored by Republican Rep. Trey Lamar of Senatobia, a small town more than 170 miles (275 kilometers) north of Jackson. He said he’s trying to make Jackson safer and reduce a backlog in the judicial system.
“There is nothing racial about the bill on its face, and there is no intent for the effect to be racial,” Lamar, who is White, told The Associated Press last month.
During a news conference March 14 outside the state Capitol building, Wendell Paris of the Minority People’s Council said the proposal to have appointed judges violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He also said it’s unfair for legislators from other parts of Mississippi to mandate what will happen in Jackson when they are not considering the same proposals for their own communities.
“You can’t take away the power of some of the members of the community and say that you represent a democracy, which you do not. You represent a false democracy,” Paris said. “And we’re saying that Mississippi is one place that we cannot tolerate any going back. Mississippi has a sordid past.”
Carol Blackmon, senior state organizing manager for the Black Voters Matter Fund, said the legislative efforts to control Jackson are “ruthlessly racist.”
“It’s a land and power grab by White state officials of a majority-Black-controlled institution, tax revenues and political power,” she said.
Blackmon said Jackson residents are smart enough to elect their own judges and to make decisions about policing. She also said if Mississippi lawmakers are interested in curbing crime, they should provide money to the Jackson Police Department.
The state-run Capitol Police department currently patrols near state government buildings in and around downtown. The House has voted to expand Capitol Police coverage into more affluent parts of the city, including some predominantly White neighborhoods. The Senate has voted to let Capitol Police patrol all of Jackson, along with city police.
Arkela Lewis, the mother of a 25-year-old Black man who was shot to death by Mississippi Capitol Police last year, recently told state lawmakers that the thought of expanding the territory of the state-run law enforcement agency “terrifies” her.