After four hours of heated debate, a white supermajority of the Mississippi legislature passed a bill Tuesday that would create a legal framework in Jackson that the city’s mayor says is reminiscent of apartheid.
The legislation, called House Bill 1020 and sponsored by State Rep. Trey Lamar (R-District 8), would involve the creation of a separate court system for the Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID), encompassing most of the downtown area of Jackson, including the state government office.
If it becomes law, court officials in Jackson and Hinds counties would no longer be elected but would instead be appointed, all the while leaving elections in place for every other municipality in the state.
The city of Jackson is over 80% Black, and the CCID, which was created by the Mississippi legislature in 2017, is 53% Black, Lamar estimated.
Meanwhile, the state legislature is controlled by white Republicans — every legislative Republican is white— while almost all the legislature’s Democrats are Black. Mississippi has a long history of gerrymandering in order to centralize power in the hands of white Republicans at the expense of Black Democrats — not to mention an even longer history of profound injustice against Black individuals.
HB1020 would create a separate court system in the CCID which would be staffed by two judges to be appointed by the white chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court. The district would also have four prosecutors, a court clerk, and four public defenders — all appointed by the white state attorney general. The district would also have an expanded Capitol Police force overseen by a public safety commissioner, who is appointed by the current white police chief.
Although Mississippi has the nation’s largest proportion of Black residents, none of the government positions with the power to appoint under HB1020 have ever been held by a Black person.
Chiefly at issue in the bill is the fact that these new state positions would be appointed by sitting officials, rather than elected by local residents of Jackson and Hinds County.
Lamar said that the bill’s purpose is “to help make our capital city of Mississippi a safer city,” and to “add to judicial resources.” Supporters of the bill point to the state constitution’s language, which permits the creation of “inferior courts.”
Mississippi Democrats call HB1020 an “unconstitutional power grab” that “starve[s] a community of much-needed resources,” while “disenfranchising voters.”
The state legislature voted 76-38 to pass the bill Tuesday, with just two Black members, Rep. Cedric Burnett (D- Tunica) and Angela Cockerham (I- Magnolia), voting in its favor. Every representative of the city of Jackson opposed the bill except Rep. Shanda Yates, a white Democrat-turned-Independent.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba spoke out against HB 1020 Monday, saying “It reminds me of apartheid.” Lumumba went on, “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.”
After the measure passed Tuesday, Lumumba lauded those within the Black caucus “who fought, making certain that they made their voices heard so I commend them on the strong fight.”
Lumumba continued, “Some of the other legislators, I was surprised that they came half-dressed because they forgot to wear their hoods.”
[image via AP/Rogelio V. Solis]