The NAACP is suing the governor and other officials over a state-run police department in Jackson, Mississippi, warning that it could result in “separate and unequal policing” in the majority-Black capital.
Governor Tate Reeves, a Republican, said he is committed to fostering an environment to provide for the safety of all Mississippians and the human dignity of all within the system from fighting to improve benefits for law enforcement officers to reforming Mississippi’s prison system, but he signed a bill to expand the territory of a state-run police department inside the majority-Black capital city.
The legislation was passed by a majority-white and Republican-controlled state House and Senate. Jackson is governed by Democrats and about 83% of residents are Black, the largest percentage of any major U.S. city.
The civil rights organization says the legislation, passed by the Republican-controlled state House and Senate, violates the principle of self-government by taking control of the police and some courts out of the hands of residents.
The expanded jurisdiction for the state-run Capitol Police is due to begin on July 1.
Jackson, which is governed by Democrats, has the largest percentage of Black residents of any major U.S. city, with about 83% of its population being Black.
The governor claims the city’s police department is severely understaffed, with more than 100 homicides in each of the past three years.
Reeves said that the Jackson Police Department is severely understaffed and he believes the state-run Capitol Police can provide stability for the city’s nearly 150,000 residents.
“They’re only imposing this on the city of Jackson,” said NAACP national president Derrick Johnson, who lives in Jackson. “No other jurisdiction in the state of Mississippi will have this type of oversight and taking of local authority. That is a direct violation of equal protection.”
“We have a crippling problem with violent crime in our capital city,” Reeves said in a statement Friday. “We’re working to address it. And when we do, we’re met with overwhelming false cries of racism and mainstream media who falsely call our actions ‘Jim Crow.’”
Capitol Police officers have been patrolling around state government buildings in and near downtown, and the Jackson Police Department patrols the entire city. Critics say Capitol Police are aggressive, and expanding the territory could endanger lives.
Debate in the past four months over a larger state role in Jackson has angered residents who don’t want their voices diminished in local government. It’s the latest example of the long-running tensions between the state government and the capital city.
Jackson officials say the state has ignored many of its requests for money to repair the city’s water system. Tens of thousands of people were left without running water last year after a near-collapse of the system that is now under control of a federally-appointed manager.
However, the NAACP argues that the new law would treat Black people as “second-class citizens” and that the governor’s actions are reminiscent of “Jim Crow” laws that enforced racial segregation in the southern U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The law that Reeves signed will create a temporary court that will have the same power as municipal courts to handle misdemeanor cases, traffic violations and initial appearances for some criminal charges but it will operate within a Capitol Complex Improvement District inside a portion of Jackson.
While municipal judges are appointed by city officials. Jackson has a Black Democratic mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, and majority-Black city council, the judge of the new court is not required to live in Jackson and will be appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court chief justice. The current chief justice is a conservative white man.