Mississippi Republicans pass bill to create separate, unelected court in majority-Black city
"Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, calls proposed law ‘some of the most oppressive legislation in our city’s history’
The Republican-dominated Mississippi house of representatives has passed a bill to create a separate, unelected court system in the city of Jackson that would fall outside the purview of the city’s voters, the majority of whom are Black.
The bill, which local leaders have likened to apartheid-era laws and described as unconstitutional, would also expand a separate capitol police force, overseen by state authorities. The force would expand into all of the city’s white majority neighborhoods, according to Mississippi Today. Jackson’s population is over 80% Black.
Speaking after House Bill 1020 passed on Tuesday evening, Jackson’s mayor Chokwe Lumumba branded the proposed law “some of the most oppressive legislation in our city’s history”.
“It’s oppressive because it strips the right of Black folks to vote. It’s oppressive because it puts a military force over people that has no accountability to them. It’s oppressive because there will be judges who will determine sentences over people’s lives. It’s oppressive because it redirects their tax dollars to something they don’t endorse nor believe in,” Lumumba said.
The bill passed largely along party lines in a 76-38 vote and will now travel to the state senate, where Republicans also hold a significant majority. The passage was preceded by an intense, four-hour floor debate in which members of the state’s Black caucus made impassioned pleas to reject the legislation and compared the bill to the state’s Jim Crow-era constitution of 1890.
The legislation was proposed by house Republican Trey Lamar, who is white and represents a district in the state’s north-west, which is majority white.
Lamar, who does not live in Jackson, has cited county court backlogs and crime rates in the city as his motivation for the proposed law. During floor debate, Lamar was askedif any of his constituents had asked for the bill. He replied: “I don’t live in Jackson … but you know what I like to do … I like to come to Jackson because it’s my capital city.”
The bill, which is over 1,000 pages long, would expand Jackson’s existing capitol complex improvement district, which is patrolled by the state’s capitol police and currently covers parts of the city’s downtown that house state government buildings. The district’s expansion would cover areas in the city’s north, which, according to local press, include entertainment and shopping neighborhoods.
The new court district would feature two judges directly appointed by Mississippi’s supreme court chief justice, Michael K Randolph, who is white. There would be two prosecutors, appointed by the state attorney general, Lynn Fitch, a white Republican. And two public defenders appointed by the state defender’s office.
Proposed amendments offered on Tuesday included calls to make the judges residents of the Jackson area and to compel elections for the positions. Both amendments failed.
The proposed bill is the latest in a line of extreme legislation in the state, which last year introduced a sweeping anti-critical race theory law, which met vocal opposition from the state’s Black caucus.
Jackson has also suffered from a series of water outages due to ailing infrastructure, which has been chronically underfunded by the state for years. Black residents in the poorest parts of the city have been disproportionately affected.
In November last year, the city’s water system was taken under federal government oversight after the Environmental Protection Agency found the city in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act."
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