Black Mississippi capital distrusted white officials’ plans

Black Mississippi capital distrusted white officials’ plans

Jackson, Miss. (AP) — Random gunfire, repeated break-ins and a crumbling city water system are constant challenges to mom’s dream kitchen, which Timothy Norris’ mother opened in Mississippi’s capital 35 years ago.

“I have some cousins ​​who live in Ohio,” said Norris, 54, who now owns the restaurant. “They came last year. They haven’t been here for 22 years. They were completely shocked to see Jackson.”

Citing rising crime, Mississippi’s Republican-controlled House recently passed a bill expanding the area of ​​Jackson patrolled by a state-run Capitol Police force and creating a new court system with appointed rather than elected judges. Both would give white state government officials more power over Jackson, which has the highest percentage of black residents of any major U.S. city.

The state Senate also passed a bill to establish a regional governing board for Jackson’s long-troubled water system, with most members appointed by state officials. The system nearly collapsed last year and is now under the control of a federally-appointed manager.

The state regulation proposals have angered Jackson residents who don’t want their voices diminished and are the latest example of long-standing tensions between the Republican-run state government and the Democratic-run capital city.

“It’s really a power grab and it’s happening in a predominantly black city with predominantly black leadership,” said Sonya Williams-Burns, a Democratic former state lawmaker who is now policy director of the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund in Mississippi. “You don’t see that going on in other parts of the state where they’re run by a white majority.”

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba called the proposal racist and “plantation politics”.

“If we allow this type of law to stand in Jackson, Mississippi, it’s only a matter of time before it hits New Orleans, it’s only a matter of time before it hits Detroit, or wherever we find our people,” Lumumba said.

Republican Rep. Trey Lamar, the sponsor of the expanded police and courts bill from a rural town 170 miles (275 km) north of Jackson, said it was aimed at making Mississippi’s capital safer and reducing the judicial backlog.

“The effect is not intended to be racial,” said Lamar, who is white, in response to arguments that the court appointed judges would disenfranchise Jackson voters.

Still, black lawmakers say creating courts with appointed judges would take away voting rights in a state where older generations of blacks still remember fighting for equal access to the ballot.

Appointed judges do not have to live in Jackson or even the county where it is located. They will be appointed chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court – a position currently held by a white conservative from outside Jackson.

About 83% of Jackson’s approximately 154,000 residents are black, and about 25% live in poverty. White flight accelerated in the 1980s, about a decade after public school integration. Many middle-class and wealthy black families also left.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves campaigned on withholding state financial aid requested by the city. During last year’s water crisis, Reeves, speaking elsewhere, said, “As always, it was a great day not to be in Jackson.”

Jackson residents have a longstanding distrust of the water system; During the crisis in August, September and December, people waited in long lines for bottled water. Still, opponents of a regional water board note state officials wanted a role when the federal government approved tens of millions of dollars for the troubled system.

The state-run Capitol Police Department has been involved in several violent incidents, including the shooting death of a black man during a traffic stop and a crash that killed another black man during a police chase.

Mt. At Helm Baptist Church, the Rev. C.J. Rhodes said many in his predominantly black congregation strongly objected to expanding the Capitol Police territory and creating courts with appointed judges.

“They feel — visibly feel — it’s taking us back to the 1950s and 1960s,” said Rhodes, the son of a civil rights lawyer. “It feels like this kind of white paternalism: ‘We’re going to come in and do what we want to do, citizens of Jackson be damned.'”

Mati Jon Prim, who owns Marshall’s Music & Bookstore in a struggling black downtown business district, said he’s not surprised by the majority-white Legislature’s efforts to rein in Jackson.

“This is a way to disempower Jackson and its citizens,” said Primm, whose store front window displays a handwritten sign: “Jim Crow Must Go” — a phrase from the T-shirt that Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers wore white in his car that night in 1963. Dominion kills him in Jackson.

Capitol Police are currently patrolling downtown and nearby state government buildings. The House bill would expand the zone to cover the city’s more affluent shopping and residential areas and several predominantly white neighborhoods.

The House and Senate exchanged bills for further debate. On Thursday, a Senate committee recommended increased Capitol Police patrols throughout the city.

Some white residents objected to the Capitol Police and a wider area for the new courthouse.

“It’s ridiculous. I think judges should be elected officials,” said Dan Pearsall, a retired art museum curator who lives in an area that would be patrolled by Capitol Police and the new court district.

Mom’s Kitchen, located in the once safe neighborhood where Norris grew up, is a casual place serving baked chicken, turnip greens and sweet potatoes. The dining room has a broken window with cardboard taped over it, a sign of an earlier vandalism.

Norris said she often felt unsafe working there. A few months ago, he said, he was looking outside when “a guy was just … shooting in the air.”

“It scared me,” said Norris, who is a licensed therapist who specializes in helping young black men, including some who have had violent encounters with law enforcement officers.

Norris said he would like to see a more effective police presence in Jackson, but he believes the Capitol Police are not the answer.

“Police need to build relationships with the community,” Norris said.


Associated Press writer Gary Fields in Washington contributed.


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