Los Angeles Times

Residents decry Mississipp­i police plan

People in the state’s majority-Black capital say the mostly white Legislatur­e is ‘taking us back to the 1950s.’

- By Emily Wagster Pettus Pettus writes for the Associated Press.

JACKSON, Miss. — Random gunfire, repeated break-ins and a decaying city water system are constant challenges at Mom’s Dream Kitchen, the soul food restaurant that Timothy Norris’ mother opened 35 years ago in Mississipp­i’s capital.

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

Citing rising crime, Mississipp­i’s Republican-controlled House recently passed a bill expanding areas 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 control of a federally appointed manager.

The proposals for state control of city affairs have angered Jackson residents who don’t want their voices diminished, and are the latest example of the long-running tensions between the Republican-run state government and Democratic­run capital city.

“It’s really a stripping of power, and it’s happening in a predominan­tly Black city that has predominan­tly Black leadership,” said Sonya Williams-Barnes, a Democratic former state lawmaker who is now Mississipp­i policy director for the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund. “You don’t see this going on in other areas of the state” with majority-white population­s and leadership.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the proposals reeked of apartheid and “plantation politics.”

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

The sponsor of the expanded police and court bill, Republican Rep. Trey Lamar, from a rural town 170 miles north of Jackson, contends that the proposal is aimed at making Mississipp­i’s capital safer and reducing a judicial backlog.

“There is no intent for the effect to be racial whatsoever,” said Lamar, who is white, in response to arguments that courts with appointed judges would disenfranc­hise Jackson voters, who select their area’s jurists.

Black lawmakers say that creating courts with appointed judges would strip away voting rights in a state where generation­s of Black people have experience­d the struggle for equal access to the ballot.

The appointed judges would not be required to live in Jackson or even the county where it’s located. They would be appointed by the chief justice of the Mississipp­i Supreme Court — a position currently held by a white conservati­ve from outside Jackson.

About 83% of Jackson’s nearly 154,000 residents are Black, and about 25% live in poverty. The pace of white flight accelerate­d in the 1980s, about a decade after public schools integrated. Many middle-class and wealthy Black families have also left.

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

Jackson residents have a long-standing distrust of their municipal water system. During crises in August, September and December, people waited in long lines for bottled water. But opponents of a regional water board note that state officials sought a role only after the federal government approved hundreds of millions of dollars for the troubled city 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.

At Mt. Helm Baptist Church, the Rev. CJ Rhodes said many people in his predominan­tly Black congregati­on strongly object to expanding Capitol Police territory and creating courts with appointed judges.

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

Maati Jone Primm, who owns Marshall’s Music & Bookstore in a struggling Black downtown business district, said she’s not surprised by the majority-white Legislatur­e’s attempts to control Jackson.

“It’s a way to disempower Jackson and its citizens,” said Primm, whose storefront window displays a handwritte­n sign: “Jim Crow Must Go” — a phrase on Tshirts that Mississipp­i NAACP leader Medgar Evers had in his car the night a white supremacis­t assassinat­ed him in Jackson in 1963.

The Capitol Police currently patrol state government buildings in and near downtown. The House bill would expand the territory to cover the city’s more affluent shopping and residentia­l areas, as well as several neighborho­ods that are predominan­tly white.

The House and Senate have exchanged bills for more debate. Last week, a Senate committee suggested having Capitol Police patrol the entire city.

Some white residents also object to a wider territory for the Capitol Police and new courts.

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

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

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

“It scared me,” said Norris, who’s also a licensed therapist specializi­ng 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.

“Policemen should be building a relationsh­ip with the community,” Norris said.

 ?? Rogelio V. Solis Associated Press ?? TIMOTHY NORRIS owns Mom’s Dream Kitchen in Jackson, Miss. He opposes a plan in the Legislatur­e that would patrol more of the city with Capitol Police.
Rogelio V. Solis Associated Press TIMOTHY NORRIS owns Mom’s Dream Kitchen in Jackson, Miss. He opposes a plan in the Legislatur­e that would patrol more of the city with Capitol Police.

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