Apartheid American-Style

Apartheid American-Style

The City of Jackson versus the Mississippi State Legislature.


Jackson, Miss.—This city’s water crisis had become a classic David and Goliath story: A predominantly Black city, led by its mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, facing off with “good ole boy” Governor Tate Reeves and his predominantly white state legislature—controlled by a Republican supermajority made possible by more than a century of violent voter suppression and racist gerrymandering.

Things came to a head last summer when more than 150,000 people went without water for weeks. Jackson was all over the news, the talk show circuit—even late-night television. Although Mayor Lumumba was winning the media, Governor Reeves had firm control of the purse strings, which he manipulated artfully to prevent the city from gaining access to any significant federal funding. That changed in the last days of the Democratic-controlled Congress, when the city secured $600 million in direct funding for infrastructure repairs. No state gatekeeping. We thought we won.

Community groups worked with the city to start planning for resident engagement. People’s Assemblies were being organized to dream our “just and equitable 21st-century water system” for which we’d fought so hard. We were walking toward the light we saw at the end of the tunnel, to paraphrase Robert Lowell, only to find an oncoming train.

The state was ferociously swift in its response, putting forward a slew of bills designed to undermine Jackson’s autonomy, economy, and ability to elect its own representatives.

Undoubtedly, the most controversial of these bills is HB 1020. If passed, the bill would essentially divide the city into two separate and unequal parts. Jackson’s whitest neighborhoods, its Capitol area, downtown, and most affluent business districts would comprise the proposed Capital Corridor Improvement District (CCID). The CCID was originally created in 2017 as a vehicle for funding landscaping and capital improvements in a small area around the state Capitol. The proposed, expanded CCID would extend the authority of the Capitol Police over much of Jackson without any accountability to its residents or elected leaders, create a separate governance structure made up of judges appointed by white public officials, take 18.75 percent of sales tax revenues that would have previously gone to the city, and strip Hinds County’s elected judges (all of whom are Black) of authority in the CCID, diverting civil and criminal cases to this new appointed bench.

The bill’s author, state Representative Trey Lamar (R-Senatobia), has said his bill’s intent is to make the capital city safer. Residents ask, safer for who? Certainly not for people like Jaylen Lewis, a 25-year-old Black father of two who was shot and killed by Capitol Police last September. An eyewitness to the shooting recalls that they had no idea that the car behind them was law enforcement—and that Lewis felt so concerned that he called a friend to let them know he was being followed just before he was shot. Lewis was the third victim of a shooting by Capitol Police in a six-week period and, according to the department, the first fatality.

The case has been “under investigation” for more than three months and the Lewis family still has no answers. Unlike the Jackson Police Department, the Capitol Police force has no oversight board or standard requirements around transparency of reporting regarding officer-involved shootings. Not that the Jackson Police Department doesn’t have its problems. It is, however, at least theoretically accountable to city residents. The Capitol Police are not. HB 1020 will expand Capitol Police jurisdiction in the city, a move that residents fear will only increase state violence and terror in our communities.

The other proposed measures, though arguably less transparently segregationist, chip away city power and authority in significant ways :

  • SB 2343 gives the Capitol Police “jurisdiction relative to the enforcement of all laws of the state of Mississippi within the boundaries of the City of Jackson, Mississippi.” It also strips the city of jurisdiction over event permits in the CCID, including permits for protests near the Capitol.
  • HB 370, recently defeated in the House, would have made it easier for mayors to be recalled. A Senate version of the bill is still active (SB 2299) that doesn’t single out municipal lawmakers.
  • HB 1168 would restrict Jackson’s use of its 1 percent sales tax revenues to water infrastructure repair. Currently, the city can use this voter-approved tax for general infrastructure.
  • SB 2735 restricts mayors’ use of their veto power—directly targeting Mayor Lumumba after a controversial veto of a city council vote to not to approve a contract.
  • SB 2338 prohibits Jackson from implementing a water-billing system that considers customer property values.
  • SB 2889 would take control of the federal dollars Jackson won and place the funds under a regional authority controlled by the state. The scheme for how the board will be appointed is quite specific: The governor gets three appointments. The lieutenant governor gets two appointments. And the mayor “gets” four appointments, which he would be required to share with two neighboring cities. Proponents of the bill argue that it is a fair deal because the city has the biggest “block” of votes. Two Republicans in lockstep get five of nine votes and the other four “Jackson” votes are to be divided among three cities. Jackson interim water manager Ted Henefin calls it “a pure grab for money.”

On February 7, Jackson residents, including the mayor, packed the statehouse to watch representatives debate HB 1020. Members of the Black Caucus formed the only opposition to the bill, peppering Lamar with hours of questions and critique that laid bare the legislation’s intent and impact. Jackson’s violent crime rate had actually decreased since 2020. In areas with community intervention programs like Credible Messengers, the drop was significant. YetLamar and his colleagues weren’t interested in data or even facts—much less the truth.

When Black House members questioned Lamar about specific crime data that may have informed the bill, the racial demographics of the proposed CCID, or why he was proposing a new governance structure instead of increasing public safety funding for Jackson, Lamar repeatedly responded that he didn’t have much data or information about the area. All he knew was that there was a real problem, and he even incorrectly cited Jackson as having the highest crime rate in the nation.

Perhaps most telling was that he had not consulted one member of the Black Hinds County delegation in the drafting of the bill.

Watching Lamar calmly deflect more than three hours of heated debate from the Black Caucus was a glimpse into what some are calling the new face of Jim Crow. His soft-spoken, persistent denials of racism and closing remarks praising a young Black child in attendance (the grandson of the late legislator Leonard Morris) as “the future of Mississippi” were a departure from the traditional right-wing vitriol. However, the impact is just as harmful. As Representative Solomon Osborne (D-Greenwood) told his colleagues in a passionate speech on the floor, “This is just a Klan meeting with suits.”

Not many here are surprised by the legislature’s actions. It is, after all, the same body that voted 101 years ago this month to send Black people back to Africa. Still, residents aren’t giving up. #JXNUndivided, a big-tent coalition of advocacy groups, electeds, clergy, and more, is working together to stop the bills and hold on to city sovereignty and funding. Said one organizer, “There’s so much at stake, but we are the people of Fannie Lou Hamer. We are the people who have been making things possible under ‘impossible’ circumstances for a very long time.”

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