JACKSON, Miss. – Legislation that would create a separate court system run by unelected judges in part of Mississippi’s capital city is racially motivated, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said Monday.
At a Monday news conference, Lumumba excoriated several bills moving through the state legislature that would affect Jackson. He said the proposal by legislators from outside the 80% Black city to create a separate court system within its borders is colonialist and racist.
“It reminds me of apartheid,” Lumumba said. "They are looking to colonize Jackson. Not only in terms of putting their military force over Jackson but also dictating who has province over decision-making.”
House Bill 1020, introduced by Rep. Trey Lamar, a Republican from Senatobia, would create a separate judicial district within an area around downtown Jackson called the Capitol Complex Improvement District, where many state-owned buildings are located.
Rather than being selected by city residents or elected officials, the new court system's judges would be appointed by the chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, and prosecutors would be appointed by the attorney general. The bill would also grant the courts exclusive jurisdiction over cases in which the state government is a party.
The Associated Press left a message with Lamar's staff seeking comment.
A special police force patrols the district to guard the state-owned buildings located in the area. The bill would also expand the district’s boundaries to include a larger portion of the city, giving the Capitol Police a larger territory.
“They're talking about a court system in which the judges would not be elected by Jackson residents, and a police force that has no accountability,” Lumumba said.
Capitol Police officers have been involved in several shootings, prompting some residents to suggest the force deploys overzealous tactics. Bo Luckey, the Capitol Police Chief, said his officers practice “proactive policing,” which involves patrolling areas more often to show an increased police presence.
In addition to the proposal for a new court system, Lumumba also criticized a bill that would transfer ownership of Jackson's water system to a new public entity overseen by a nine-member board, the majority of which would be appointed by state leaders. Those bills, along with another that would allow recall elections for municipal officials in the state, show a “paternalistic relationship” between state officials and the city, Lumumba said.
“To be able to make decisions that dictate what people in Jackson should have the ability to dictate is not only colonialist but racist," Lumumba said. "It is plantation politics at its finest."
The measure creating the separate court system, House Bill 1020, passed out of committee and can now be brought before the full state House of Representatives. Should it pass, it will go to the Senate. Republicans control both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature.
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.