Mississippi Senate passes bill that affects black city with majority

Mississippi’s predominantly white and Republican-led state senate voted Tuesday to pass its version of a bill that would allow a greater role for state police and appointed judges in the majority-black capital of Jackson, which is led by Democrats.

“It’s vastly improved from where it started, but it’s still a snake,” Jackson Democratic Sen. John Horhn said of the bill during Tuesday’s debate.

Critics say that in a state where older African Americans remember the battle for ballot access decades ago, the bill is a paternalistic attempt to encroach on local decision-making and voting rights in the capital, which has the highest percentage of blacks. has. residents of a major American city.

The Mississippi House — which is also largely white and led by Republicans — passed the first draft of the bill last month. The House version would have created two permanent new courts in Jackson with judges appointed by the Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court. The current justice is a conservative white man.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who is black, said the proposal reminded him of apartheid.

The Senate voted 34 to 15 on Tuesday to approve the revised version of the bill, with Republicans in favor and Democrats against.

Supporters of the bill say they are trying to improve public safety in Jackson, which has seen more than 100 homicides in the past three years.

“We all know the nation is watching. They have been,” Republican Senator Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula said ahead of Tuesday’s Senate vote. “And with this bill, we are standing up for the people of Jackson and for our capital.”

The bill returns to the House, which could accept the amendments in the Senate or seek final negotiations in the coming weeks.

Republican Governor Tate Reeves has denounced crime in Jackson, but has not said whether he would sign the bill if it lands on his desk.

The Senate version removed the permanent new courts. Instead, until December 2026, the Chief Justice could appoint one judge to work within the existing justice system.

Hinds County, home to Jackson, currently has four elected Circuit Court judges who hear criminal and civil cases. Mississippi is already spending part of its federal COVID-19 relief money to pay four appointed judges to temporarily assist elected judges in Hinds County with a backlog of cases that arose when courts were closed due to the pandemic. The Senate version of the bill would add a fifth appointed deputy judge.

The Senate version would also authorize the state-run Capitol Police to patrol the entire city of Jackson. Currently, Capitol police officers are patrolling downtown and some nearby neighborhoods where government buildings are located. Officers from the city-led Jackson Police Department patrol the entire city.

The House version of the bill would have expanded Capitol Police territory to include affluent parts of Jackson, including shopping areas and predominantly white neighborhoods — but not the entire city.

Arkela Lewis, whose 25-year-old son Jaylen Lewis was shot dead by Capitol Police last year, told lawmakers Monday that the proposal to expand the territory of the state-run police force terrifies and angers her.


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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