Connect with us

Mississippi Today

‘Only in Mississippi’: White representatives vote to create white-appointed court system for Blackest city in America



‘Only in Mississippi': White representatives vote to create white-appointed court system for Blackest city in America

A white supermajority of the Mississippi House voted after an intense, four-plus hour debate to create a separate court system and an expanded police force within the city of Jackson — the Blackest city in America — that would be appointed completely by white officials.

If House Bill 1020 becomes law later this session, the white chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court would appoint two judges to oversee a new district within the city — one that includes all of the city's majority-white neighborhoods, among other areas. The white state attorney general would appoint four prosecutors, a court clerk, and four public defenders for the new district. The white state public safety commissioner would oversee an expanded Capitol Police force, currently by a white chief.

The appointments by state officials would occur in lieu of judges and prosecutors being elected by the local residents of Jackson and — as is the case in every other municipality and county in the state.


Mississippi's capital city is 80% Black and home to a higher percentage of Black residents than any major American city. Mississippi's Legislature is thoroughly controlled by white , who have redrawn districts over the past 30 years to ensure they can pass any bill without a single Democratic vote. Every legislative Republican is white, and most Democrats are Black.

After thorough and passionate dissent from Black members of the House, the bill passed 76-38 Tuesday primarily along party lines. Two Black member of the House — Rep. Cedric Burnett, a Democrat from Tunica, and Angela Cockerham, an independent from Magnolia — voted for the measure. All but one lawmaker representing the city of Jackson — Rep. Shanda Yates, a white independent — opposed the bill.

“Only in Mississippi would we have a bill like this … where we say solving the problem requires removing the vote from Black people,” Rep. Ed Blackmon, a Democrat from Canton, said while pleading with his colleagues to oppose the measure.

READ MORE: Hinds County forces unite against bill to create unelected judicial district, expanded police force


For most of the debate, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba — who has been publicly chided by the white Republicans who lead the Legislature —looked down on the House chamber from the gallery. Lumumba accused the Legislature earlier this year of practicing “plantation ” in terms of its treatment of Jackson, and of the bill that passed Tuesday, he said: “It reminds me of apartheid.”

Hinds County Circuit Judge Adrienne Wooten, who served in the House before being elected judge and would be one of the existing judges to lose jurisdiction under this House proposal, also watched the debate.

Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell, who oversees the Capitol Police, watched a portion of the debate from the House gallery, chuckling at times when Democrats made impassioned points about the bill. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, the only statewide elected official who owns a house in Jackson, walked onto the House floor shortly before the final vote.

Rep. Blackmon, a civil rights leader who has a decades-long history of championing issues, equated the current legislation to the Jim Crow-era 1890 Constitution that was written to strip voting rights from Black .


“This is just like the 1890 Constitution all over again,” Blackmon said from the floor. “We are doing exactly what they said they were doing back then: ‘Helping those people because they can't govern themselves.'”

The bill was authored by Rep. Trey Lamar, a Republican whose hometown of Senatobia is 172 miles north of Jackson. It was sent to Lamar's committee by Speaker Philip Gunn instead of a House Judiciary Committee, where similar legislation normally would be heard.

“This bill is designed to make our capital city of Jackson, Mississippi, a safer place,” Lamar said, citing numerous sources who have covered Jackson's high rates. Dwelling on a long backlog of Hinds County court cases, Lamar said the bill was designed to “help not hinder the (Hinds County) court system.”

“My constituents want to feel safe when they come here,” Lamar said, adding the capital city belonged to all the citizens of the state. “Where I am coming from with this bill is to help the citizens of Jackson and Hinds County.”


Many House members who represent Jackson on Tuesday said they were never consulted by House leadership about the bill. Several times during the debate, they pointed out that Republican leaders have never proposed increasing the number of elected judges to address a backlog of cases or increasing state funding to assist an overloaded Jackson Police Department.

In earlier sessions, the Legislature created the Capitol Complex Improvement District, which covers much of the downtown, including the state government office complex and other areas of Jackson. The bill would extend the existing district south to Highway 80, north to County Line Road, west to State Street and east to the Pearl River. Between 40,000 and 50,000 people live within the area.

Opponents of the legislation, dozens of whom have protested at the Capitol several days this year, accused the authors of carving out mostly white, affluent areas of the city to be put in the new district.

The bill would double the funding for the district to $20 million in order to increase the size of the existing Capitol Police force, which has received broad criticism from Jacksonians for shooting several people in recent months with little accountability.


The new court system laid out in House Bill 1020 is estimated to cost $1.6 million annually.

Democratic members of the House said if they wanted to help with the crime problem, the Legislature could increase the number of elected judges in Hinds County. Blackmon said Hinds County was provided four judges in 1992 when a major redistricting occurred, and that number has not increased since then even as the caseload for the four judges has exploded.

In addition, Blackmon said the number of assistant prosecuting attorneys could be increased within Hinds County. In Lamar's bill, the prosecuting of cases within the district would be conducted by attorneys in the office of Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who is white.

Blackmon said the bill was “about a land grab,” not about fighting crime. He said other municipalities in the state had higher crime rates than Jackson. Blackmon asked why the bill would give the appointed judges the authority to hear civil cases that had nothing to do with crime.


“When Jackson becomes the No. 1 place for murder, we have a problem,” Lamar responded, highlighting the city's long backlog of court cases. Several Democrats, during the debate, pointed out that the state of Mississippi's crime lab has a lengthy backlog, as well, adding to the difficult in closing cases in Hinds County.

Lamar said the Mississippi Constitution gives the Legislature the authority to create “inferior courts,” as the Capitol Complex system would be. The decisions of the appointed judges can be appealed to Hinds County Circuit Court.

Democrats offered seven amendments, including one to make the judges elected. All were defeated primarily along partisan and racial lines.

“We not incompetent,” said Rep. Chris Bell, D-Jackson. “Our judges are not incompetent.”


An amendment offered by Rep. Cheikh Taylor, D-Starkville, to require the Capitol Police to wear body cameras was approved. Lamar voiced for the amendment.

Much of the debate centered around the issue of creating a court where the Black majority in Hinds County would not be allowed to vote on judges.

One amendment that was defeated would require the appointed judges to come from Hinds County. Lamar said by allowing the judges to come from areas other than Hinds County would ensure “the best and brightest” could serve. Black legislators said the comment implied that he judges and other court staff could not be found within the Black majority population of Hinds County.

When asked why he could not add more elected judges to Hinds County rather than appointing judges to the new district, Lamar said, “This is the bill that is before the body.”


This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Mississippi Today

'Like you were unzipping a jacket': How survivors barely missed tornado damage, and their next steps for rebuilding



‘Like you were unzipping a jacket': How survivors barely missed tornado damage, and their next steps for rebuilding

ROLLING FORK – At first, Eddie Jones' two 5-year-old twin daughters didn't want to stay with his mother last Friday night.

But after she insisted, the girls complied, and at around 6:30 p.m. they made the short four-block trip to their grandmother's house.

Now by himself in his Rolling Fork home, Jones, a 50-year-old retiredArmy veteran, anchored his attention to the television, where he was tracking some NBA wagers he placed on a fantasy sports app. With his earpiece clipped in, Jones was talking with his buddies about the night's games when he heard a strange whistling sound from outside at around 8 p.m.


The whistling turned to a roar, and Jones bolted for the bathroom. He ran so fast he banged his leg on the bathtub before he laid down inside it.

He knew what it was, because a couple hours earlier he saw an alert on his phone about a possible tornado in the area. At the time, he didn't think much of it, figuring it was just another one of the small storms he was used to. There might be some lightning, some power outages, but things would be fine by the morning, Jones told himself.

“It's pretty regular around here,” he said later, recalling the warning on his phone. “But things were different this time.”

When asked if he heard a tornado siren or any other kind of alarm from outside his home, Jones said he didn't hear anything.

Eddie Jones' Rolling Fork home after a tornado hit on Mar. 24, 2023.

Sharkey County Supervisor Bill Newsom confirmed to Mississippi Today that a siren in Rolling Fork wasn't working when the storm arrived on Friday. On the county website, a notice about the siren's repairs says that, in the event of a tornado, a patrol car would drive through the city with its sirens on to warn citizens.

Jones said he didn't hear that either. Rolling Fork officials couldn't be reached before this story published. Newsom said a Georgia-based company called him after the storm and said it would install a new siren for .

While stationed in his bathtub, Jones heard the windows around the house pop.

“The glass was shooting everywhere, and my walls started cracking,” Jones remembered. “It was just like you were unzipping a jacket.”

Laying down, he felt the house lift up into the air and settle back onto the ground.


When the commotion outside died down, Jones looked up to see that his bathroom door had flown off, and his clothes were scattered around the house. He climbed around his belongings and tried to get outside, but the wind was still holding his front door shut. Instead, he ducked outside the one window that wasn't shattered and made his way to his mother's house where his daughters were.

Fortunately, her house just four blocks away was untouched.

Jones went back in the morning to check on the damages: The roof was cracked open, tree limbs protruded out of the side of his living room and his car's windshield. The entire house had shifted a few feet off of its foundation.

But what struck Jones the most was looking to his daughters' room. He noticed that the wind, after breaking the window, blew debris inside and across the room, shattering a mirror on the opposite wall.


“Had my girls been (home), asleep in their bed, they wouldn't be here,” Jones said.

Jones and his daughters are still staying with his mother. He said the pressure at her house finally returned to normal as of Wednesday, a relief after washing himself with baby wipes the last few days, and the power came back on Tuesday.

Now, Jones and hundreds of other wait to see what relief will from the government and charities to help them rebuild.

Eddie Jones' daughters' room in Rolling Fork after a tornado hit on Mar. 24, 2023.

‘It's going to be a mess

Rolling Fork is in Sharkey County, which, with about 4,000 residents, is the second least-populated county in the state. After last weekend's tornadoes, about a quarter of the county is now displaced from their homes, Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney estimated.

Because approved an emergency disaster declaration, victims are eligible for grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help pay for temporary housing as well as to rebuild their homes.


The program, FEMA's Individual Assistance, can kick in if a victim doesn't have insurance covering storm damage or if the insurance doesn't cover all of the damages. Victims can also apply for low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration. Receiving an SBA loan and its interest rates are subject to a victim's credit history, among other factors.

Chaney said it'll be a challenge to get all of the resources needed from the government to rebuild Sharkey County, where 27% of residents live in poverty and many homes are uninsured.

“For the individuals, the lower income population, they're not insured,” he said. “A lot of them live in trailers. It's going to be a mess, it's going to be hard. The government is going to have to really step in this time.”

Chaney estimated that, between people's homes and county infrastructure, Sharkey County could be dealing with over $200 million in uninsured losses.

A truck rests in what is left of Chuck's Dairy Bar in Rollingfork after a tornado devasted the area Friday night, Saturday, March 25, 2023.

“I've never been so stressed in all of my life. I'm usually a strong old woman, but I ain't that no more,” said Collie Barnes, an 81-year-old lifelong of Anguilla, which is just north of Rolling Fork. “I'm just glad to be alive.”

Barnes took refuge with her neighbors, who initially wanted to stay home, in a nearby church after hearing about the storm on the . She went back to see her porch was missing and water was leaking through the roof, but she realized she was relatively fortunate.

“(Her neighbor) said, ‘I better see if I got a house,' and she didn't. It was gone,” Barnes said.

On Wednesday, Barnes and others came to the town hall in Anguilla – which itself is still recovering from a tornado last December – where a FEMA official sat outside, helping victims apply for assistance.

The state hasn't yet released an official count of total people displaced. While as of Tuesday less than 30 people were staying in shelters, according to the Agency, a motel in Greenville is giving over 100 of its rooms for victims to stay in, the Clarion Ledger reported.FEMA is also placing victims in nearby hotel rooms, an agency spokesperson said, adding that anyone affected should either call800-621-3362or visitdisasterassistance.govfor help.


On Thursday, gave the latest information on damaged homes, deaths and injuries by county:

  • Bolivar County: 9 damaged homes
  • Carroll County: 24 damaged homes, 5 injuries, 3 deaths
  • Humphreys County: 55 damaged homes, 15 injuries, 3 deaths
  • Itawamba County: 1 damaged home
  • Lafayette County: 2 damaged homes
  • Lee County: 10 damaged homes
  • Monroe County: 1,476 damaged homes, 55 injuries, 2 deaths
  • Montgomery County: 49 damaged homes
  • Grenada County: 1 damaged home
  • Prentiss County: 1 damaged home
  • Panola County: 31 damaged homes
  • Sharkey County: 255 damaged homes, 15 injuries, 13 deaths

MEMA spokesperson Malary White said that, as of Tuesday, all missing persons had been accounted for.

So far, FEMA has approved Carroll, Humphreys, Monroe and Sharkey Counties to apply for Individual Assistance. MEMA spokesperson Malary White said more counties could be added as damage assessments continue.

Those counties, as well as Attala, Chickasaw, Clay, Grenada, Holmes, Issaquena, Itawamba, Lee, Leflore, Lowndes, Montgomery, Sunflower, Washington and Yazoo counties are also eligible to apply for SBA disaster loans.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Continue Reading

Mississippi Today

'Out to get Jackson': Bill to create separate courts, police for part of capital city advances over protest



‘Out to get Jackson': Bill to create separate courts, police for part of capital city advances over protest

Legislation that has brought hours of bitter debate, has inspired broad negative national attention and has racially divided the Mississippi Legislature about its capital city of took a penultimate step towards reaching the governor's desk Thursday night.

The Senate passed House Bill 1020, which would create separate, appointed courts for downtown and more affluent, whiter parts of Jackson — the Blackest large city in the nation. The Senate also passed a companion measure that will expand police jurisdiction in the city.

The vote, over objections from the Jackson legislative delegation and every Black senator, was 31-15. The measure will be taken up by the House, where it is expected to pass, on Friday, likely the last day of the 2023 legislative session. If passed in the House, the measure will reach Gov. Tate Reeves' desk for signature or veto.


If it becomes , judges for this area will be appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court chief justice, not elected like everywhere else in Mississippi. People who call for help there will reach a separate 9-1-1 system for the state- Capitol Police. Those arrested there, even for misdemeanor crimes such as DUI, will be held in a state prison, not a city or county lockup.

White, Republican legislative leaders say they're fed up with crime in the capital city and are trying to help. City and legislative leaders from Jackson say it's an unconstitutional state takeover that smacks of Jim Crow separate-but-equal governance.

READ MORE: House revives state police expansion and bitter fight over Jackson ‘takeover'

Weeks of haggling between House and Senate leaders and changes to the measures — making the separate circuit and municipal-type court temporary through 2026 and 2027 — did little to allay opposition.


“It's almost as if folks resent Jackson — politically, economically, socially, racially — and we've been out to get Jackson,” said Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson. “That's what it feels like, in this Legislature, like we're out to get Jackson. It's not that we see a problem and we've got to help our capital city. It's almost as if we're doing everything we can to ensure it fails and gets flushed down the Pearl River.

“… State government has basically left Jackson to its own devices for many years now,” Horhn continued. “… You take as much of the resources as you can out of the city, and then you blame us when things go wrong … We will not be a great state if we don't have a great city. We will not be a great state if we don't have a great capital city, and we will not be a great state if Black folks and white folks don't learn to get along and do things for our mutual benefit.”

Some lawmakers questioned the legality and constitutionality of the measures.

“There will be two systems of justice for people in Jackson,” said Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson. “If you're in this neighborhood, you have one type of justice. If you're in this neighborhood, you have this type. It's fundamentally un-American and unconstitutional. Not only do you have a different kind of justice, people in this part of town have one 9-1-1 system. People in this part have this 9-1-1 system. How is that equal protection under the law? We have almost completely segregated in Mississippi right now, let's be honest.”


Senate Judiciary Chairman Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, helped haggle out a final version of HB 1020 and argued for its passage. He told his colleagues about inviting two women from New Mexico to come appear before his committee a couple of years ago. He said they stayed in a downtown Jackson hotel the night before the meeting.

“They said they were scared to walk to the Capitol,” Wiggins said. “… I could see it in their faces. They thought they were going to be harmed. They had to take a cab. They couldn't walk downtown to the Capitol.”

“This is not about race,” Wiggins said. “This is about helping the citizens of Jackson … We have to stop the divisive race baiting when all we are trying to do is help our fellow .”

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Continue Reading

Mississippi Today

State board names interim superintendent a day after Senate rejection of Robert Taylor



State board names interim superintendent a day after Senate rejection of Robert Taylor

Mike Kent

The Board of Education has named Mike Kent to serve as interim state superintendent for the next three months after the rejected Robert Taylor, whom the state board originally selected last November.

Taylor, a Mississippi native, had worked in North Carolina in various positions since 1992. He was on the job for just over two months before the Legislature rejected his nomination on Wednesday.

The state superintendent oversees Mississippi's 870 public schools and is appointed by the Board of Education.Kent will serve in the role through June 30 before a long-term interim superintendent will take over, according to a press release. The board will set a timeline for a search for a permanent superintendent at a later date, according to the release.


Kent has served as an interim deputy superintendent at the Mississippi Department of Education since 2012, working on leadership for principals and superintendents, overseeing districts currently in state takeover, facilitating school district consolidations, and implementing changes to the accountability model. Prior to this role, he was the superintendent of the Madison County School District for over 10 years.

“Mike Kent has deep roots and experience in Mississippi's public school system at the state and district level and is respected throughout the state for his wisdom and effective leadership,” Rosemary Aultman, chair of the State Board of Education said in a statement. “The Board is confident he will continuity in leadership of the Mississippi Department of Education during this transition.”

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Did you miss our previous article…

Continue Reading