By Emily Wagster Pettus
The NAACP warns that “separate and unequal policing” will return to Mississippi’s majority-Black capital under a state-run police department, and the civil rights organization is suing the governor and other officials over it.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves says violent crime in Jackson has made it necessary to expand where the Capitol Police can patrol and to authorize some appointed rather than elected judges.
But the NAACP said in its lawsuit filed late Friday that these are serious violations of the principle of self-government because they take control of the police and some courts out of the hands of residents.
“In certain areas of Jackson, a citizen can be arrested by a police department led by a State-appointed official, be charged by a State-appointed prosecutor, be tried before a State-appointed judge, and be sentenced to imprisonment in a State penitentiary regardless of the severity of the act,” the lawsuit says.
Derrick Johnson, the national president of the NAACP, is himself a resident of Jackson. At a community meeting earlier this month, he said the policing law would treat Black people as “second-class citizens.”
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 governor said this week that the Jackson Police Department is severely understaffed and he believes the state-run Capitol Police can provide stability. The city of 150,000 residents has had more than 100 homicides in each of the past three years.
“We’re working to address it,” Reeves said in a statement Friday. “And when we do, we’re met with overwhelming false cries of racism and mainstream media who falsely call our actions ‘Jim Crow.’”
According to one of the bills Reeves signed into law Friday, Capitol Police will have “concurrent" jurisdiction with Jackson Police Department in the city. The expanded jurisdiction for the Capitol Police would begin July 1.
Another law will create a temporary court within a Capitol Complex Improvement District covering a portion of Jackson. The court will have the same power as municipal courts, which handle misdemeanor cases, traffic violations and initial appearances for some criminal charges. The new law says people convicted in the Capitol Complex Improvement District Court may be put in a state prison rather than in a city or county jail.
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.