Hinds County forces unite against bill to create unelected judicial district, expanded police force
Jackson and Hinds County community members, elected officials, pastors and advocacy groups hope to stop legislation that would expand the boundaries of the Capitol Police and create a court system within the force’s district.
Opponents of House Bill 1020 say it is an unprecedented attempt to strip power away from the city of Jackson, which has one of the largest Black populations in Mississippi. They say the bill is racist and it implies that Black leadership is incapable of governance.
“We get to put all the action in someone else’s hands and pay the taxes to the king,” Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said during a Tuesday press conference on the Capitol steps.
The bill, proposed by Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, has passed through the Ways and Means Committee and is up for consideration by the full House.
Speakers at the news conference said they are against the existence and expansion of the Capitol Police, which was involved in several shootings last year that led to injuries or deaths, including the death of 25-year-old Jaylen Lewis, who died after a traffic stop by a Capitol Police officer.
The current boundaries of the Capitol Complex Improvement District where the Capitol Police operates include downtown, Jackson State University, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Fondren and Belhaven. HB 1020 would push the district north.
The district started out as a way to provide funding for infrastructure in the Capitol area. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislature used federal relief funds to create a patrol fleet for the Capitol Police and have four appointed judges help address case backlogs within the Hinds County Circuit Court, said Attorney Paloma Wu from the Mississippi Center for Justice.
She said this set the stage for HB 1020. The bill proposes creating a court system for the district with judges appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court chief justice and prosecutors appointed by the state attorney general. The chief of the Capitol Police District would also be appointed by the Department of Public Safety commissioner.
“It impacts you whether you live within the red line or the blue line,” Wu said about how the district court system would cover not just people living in the district, but around Hinds County.
Wu said the power of over 200,000 Hinds County residents would be placed in the hands of one person – Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph. He did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Opponents also said the bill will empower a slate of all white and unelected officials for Hinds County.
The entire Hinds County Democratic delegation and Mississippi Senate Democratic Caucus are against the bill, according to statements from the groups.
The county’s circuit, chancery, county and justice court judges released a statement Monday evening calling the bill unconstitutional and one that would disenfranchise the county’s voters and remove power from elected judges.
“House Bill 1020 removes authority of the Circuit, Chancery, County and Justice Court judges from hearing and presiding over cases within the proposed Capital Improvement District and takes the constitutional power of elected judges and gives it to Judges appointed by the Supreme Court,.” according to the statement.
On Tuesday on the steps of the Hinds county Courthouse, the judges flanked Senior Circuit Judge Winston Kidd. He said the residents of every judicial district elect their judges, but HB 1020 would make Hinds County the exception.
Kidd said if the Legislature wants to add more judges, it should add ones that are elected.
HB 1020 also proposes sending 18.75% of sales tax that would otherwise go to Jackson to a Capitol Complex Improvement District project fund.
At the Capitol news conference, several speakers said what could happen with the legislation is similar to what happened in the 1800’s when lawmakers sought to disenfranchise Black residents.
Rep. Edward Blackmon Jr., D-Canton, evoked the names of Fannie Lou Hamer and Medgar Evers as people who fought for the right of Black people to vote.
“We are united in our effort and our voice to stop this atrocity because if you don’t do it now, you’ll be marching tomorrow,” he said. “You’ll be marching for what we’ve won, what our forefathers and grandmothers and granddaddies fought for for so many years and gave up their blood and tears. You’ll be letting down their effort.”