By Janice K. Neal-Vincent, Ph.D.,
On October 17, 2022, Congressman Bennie Thompson (chairman – Committee on Homeland Security) and Carolyn B. Maloney (chairwoman – Committee on Oversight and Reform) penned their letter referencing the recent water crisis in Jackson to Governor Tate Reeves. The letter charged negligence of funding distribution to the City of Jackson. “Generational disinvestment in majority-Black cities” has soared for decades and plunged into a “disaster.” Consequently, Jackson has been deprived of critical federal funding by the state of Mississippi. New water systems have been installed among neighboring communities, whilst “pipes under Jackson have not been properly maintained since the 1950s.”
A Town Hall meeting to heighten public awareness was held at New Hope Baptist Church that is pastored by the Reverend Jerry Young Monday, October 24, 2022, at 6 p.m. Church officials had designated a room for the gathering but had to resort to holding the meeting in the sanctuary that housed over 800 of Jackson’s residents and friends.
The panel discussion that was moderated by Charles Payne, executive officer and principal analyst of Wall Street Strategies, Inc. and featured Congressman Bennie Thompson, NAACP/ CEO President Derrick Johnson, Abree’ Conner, director, Environmental and Climate Control, and Delores Lee, president, Jackson NAACP.
Thompson informed the onlookers that Mississippi has received more than $10 billion in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Also, $529 million was allotted for the enhancement of the state’s water infrastructure. Jackson, however, has not received equitable funding.
Jackson’s mayor Chokwe Lumumba led the audience in the chant, “I Deserve Clean Water.” He then asserted: “We have the help of our congressman, Bennie Thompson and the NAACP president, Derrick Johnson. I feel hopeful that we’re going to get a solution to the water crisis.”
“The question is whether the City of Jackson will be treated fairly in the disbursement of those funds. We have to come up with objective criteria. The overwhelming majority came from the federal government, and I’m the only person who voted for it. If you do what is right, then, you’re okay, but if you do wrong, then, we have a problem,” claimed the congressman.
Johnson broached the matter with: “Mississippi took a course of action to blame those who have been injured. What happened in August was the intentionality by the state. It began to shift and reveal how the allocated funds were handled. Funds used were federal funds. We must not cater to an ‘us vs. us fight.’…This is much about controlling the asset because it generates millions of dollars. Why should the citizens of Jackson create the asset, then give it away to others? The solution is [to] apply the federal funds to where the federal funds were meant.”
Advancing his argument, Johnson explained that the state’s intention is to rob the resources from the city. He encouraged the community to speak boldly by keeping the public assets public and under control. “We must be good stewards by detesting these barriers. We will work with any officials who agree with us. There are some white elected officials who play behind the door, but we don’t have time for that [and we must call them out]. It’s election time. We need to be new and more sophisticated. We must keep everybody informed.”
Johnson alerted the public that the state has a deadline of 30 days to respond regarding discriminatory practices against the City of Jackson. “What’s happening here is a microcosm of systemic racism,” he quipped.
“We’re still in the process of fixing the damage that occurred from the flood. FEMA comes back and fixes the damage. The system is fixed and paid for by FEMA. Jackson is not handling things properly. The challenge is to meet all the requirements for fixing the water system,” Thompson injected.
Furthering his comment, Thompson warned that at some point the City Council must make some decisions because “they’re going to take your system from you, and it’s really not in your best interest. They want 12 members on the board, and the City of Jackson was not mentioned.”
After thanking Mayor Lumumba for not falling prey to Reeves’ “name calling and tricks,” he warned Jackson citizenry that they must have local control “which only happens if we stick together.”
Audience members pitched that (1) the state has no authority to act as the power of the city; (2) the Jackson community is facing mental trauma resulting from the water crisis; (3) water pollution is affecting the health of Jackson citizenry; (4) the community should mobilize people to test their water in an effort to prove that water is contaminated; (5) the community should develop a team of scientific professionals from Jackson State University, Mississippi State University, etc. for systems that work for the community; and (6) professionals should delete chemicals that infiltrate the water system.
Those reacting to the Town Hall meeting had this to say: “This was a very informative Town Hall meeting. It really enlightened my understanding.” (Arthur Jefferson, (Ph.D.) Jackson resident and retired professor, Testing and Assessment Department, JSU).
“I really enjoyed Monday night’s meeting. What I loved about it was that they were very informative about the water crisis. (Jean Collier, North Jackson resident).