After hours of debate, an all-white Mississippi House voted to create a new district in Jackson, “the Blackest city in America,” with a separate court system and police force for Black and white residents—crewed by people appointed by the state’s all-white officials.
Mississippi Today reports that if House Bill 1020 becomes law, the new district would have two judges appointed (not elected as in every other county in the state) by the white chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court. Additionally, a white state attorney general would appoint four prosecutors, a court clerk, and four public defenders, and the white state public safety commissioner would oversee a newly expanded police force run by (you guessed it) a white police chief.
“Only in Mississippi would we have a bill like this … where we say solving the problem requires removing the vote from Black people,” Rep. Ed Blackmon, a Democrat from Canton, Mississippi, said during the debate.
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Jackson, Mississippi’s capital city, is 80% Black, and yet white Republicans dominate the state’s legislature. For the last 30 years, according to Mississippi Today, districts in Jackson have been redrawn to make sure that any bill can pass without having to worry about Democratic opposition.
The latest vote passed 76-38 along party lines.
In late January, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba blasted the state’s Republican lawmakers and the ongoing efforts to maintain control of the majority Black city.
“It reminds me of Apartheid,” Lumumba said. “They are looking to colonize Jackson, not only in terms of them putting their military force over Jackson but also dictating who has province over decision-making… They put this military force over us, and we’re just supposed to pay taxes to the king.”
Blackmon compared the new bill to the 1890 Mississippi Constitution, a voter suppression document that added a poll tax and arbitrary literacy tests for voting, designed to disenfranchise Black voters in the South.
From the House floor, Blackmon said, “We are doing exactly what they said they were doing back then: ‘Helping those people because they can’t govern themselves.'”
When the bill is signed into law, it will provide an extra $20 million to the existing Capitol Police force. The new court system will get an additional $1.6 million annually.
Mississippi Today reports that Democrats offered several amendments, one that included having the judges elected versus appointed.
Rep. Chris Bell of Jackson said, “We not incompetent… Our judges are not incompetent.”
Republican Rep. Trey Lamar, who authored the bill, claims that it makes the city of Jackson “a safer place” for his “constituents.” Lamar lives 172 miles north of the city.