Bobby Harrison and Adam Ganucheau/Mississippi Today
Rep. Kathy Sykes, D-Jackson, left, asks Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, a question concerning infrastructure during a special session of the Legislature at the Capitol in Jackson Monday, August 27, 2018. Credit: Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America
A white supermajority of the Mississippi House voted after an intense, four-plus hour debate to create a separate court system and an expanded police force within the city of Jackson — the Blackest city in America — that would be appointed completely by white state officials.
If House Bill 1020 becomes law later this session, the white chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court would appoint two judges to oversee a new district within the city — one that includes all of the city’s majority-white neighborhoods, among other areas. The white state attorney general would appoint four prosecutors, a court clerk, and four public defenders for the new district. The white state public safety commissioner would oversee an expanded Capitol Police force, run currently by a white chief.
The appointments by state officials would occur in lieu of judges and prosecutors being elected by the local residents of Jackson and Hinds County — as is the case in every other municipality and county in the state.
Mississippi’s capital city is 80% Black and home to a higher percentage of Black residents than any major American city. Mississippi’s Legislature is thoroughly controlled by white Republicans, who have redrawn districts over the past 30 years to ensure they can pass any bill without a single Democratic vote. Every legislative Republican is white, and most Democrats are Black.
After thorough and passionate dissent from Black members of the House, the bill passed 76-38 Tuesday primarily along party lines. Two Black member of the House — Rep. Cedric Burnett, a Democrat from Tunica, and Angela Cockerham, an independent from Magnolia — voted for the measure. All but one lawmaker representing the city of Jackson — Rep. Shanda Yates, a white independent — opposed the bill.
“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, said while pleading with his colleagues to oppose the measure.
For most of the debate, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba — who has been publicly chided by the white Republicans who lead the Legislature — looked down on the House chamber from the gallery. Lumumba accused the Legislature earlier this year of practicing “plantation politics” in terms of its treatment of Jackson, and of the bill that passed Tuesday, he said: “It reminds me of apartheid.”
Hinds County Circuit Judge Adrienne Wooten, who served in the House before being elected judge and would be one of the existing judges to lose jurisdiction under this House proposal, also watched the debate.