You never have to look too hard to see how people feel about a topic. Sure, there are those that can keep a poker-face really well – we all know some of them – but sooner or later people’s true internal beliefs are laid bare. And here we are, thirty days into the 2023 regular session of the Mississippi State legislature, and so much is being revealed about how these white Christian republican legislators feel about our capital city of Jackson.
Chimneyville is a beautiful city and home to somewhere between 150-180,000 residents. Thousands more come from the suburbs each week to work in state and federal jobs. In April 2022 Auditor White released a report, Mississippi Needs a Healthy Jackson, indicating in part that, “Of the graduates who stay in Mississippi, 30% live and work in Hinds County. The next closest county is Harrison County on the Gulf Coast, but even there the draw is just one-fifth the power of Jackson’s.”
Jackson is a majority black city, over 80%, with predominantly black leadership and inherently becomes a target for no other reason. This is surely not a new phenomenon, but it is being amped up to a stifling level in recent weeks.
On February 1, the beginning of Black History Month, which is not acknowledged by our young white Christian republican governor, the Mayor of Jackson; Chokwe Antar Lumumba, held a Town Hall in south Jackson at Forest Hill High School. Close to 100 people gathered and the Mayor answered many questions about our water and sewer system. Leaks, lack of water, not trusting the quality of the water, wastewater backing up into a city park in Alta Woods preventing its usage. Even one lady who cares for her brother who has a serious sore on his foot and has been told explicitly by his physician to not expose the sore to Jackson water.
Mayor Lumumba mentioned the nearly $1 billion now in the city coffers from the Congress, Water Act funds and Environmental Protection Agency grants – more than any other amount in national history. He especially thanked President Biden, Representative Bennie Thompson and Senator Roger Wicker. He spoke well of the federally appointed administrator, Ted Henifin, and believes we will be led to the “goal of a safe, equitable and resilient water system.”
When responding to a question about billing and metering, he indicated, “State law doesn’t allow me to forgive water bills.” This is the case even if residents had not even received a bill in a period of years. Following a question about the 1% tax, he indicated, “the problem with your 1% tax is that you do not have the discretion of your city to make decisions over how it is spent based on priorities. We are the only city in the state with a commission, most of whose members have no expertise in infrastructure and water systems.”
In response to a question about the competency of the administration and race, he stated, “We fought for legislation to put your account into a non-collectable status, and you said it’s not about race, but I will tell you how it is very much about race because at the same time I was being told by your Lieutenant Governor that none of our legislation is going to pass unless you give up your airport – I had to say to him, listen governor – I’m going to be on Rachel Maddow tonight and if you don’t make our legislation that gives our people more equity to pay these bills, I’m going to make you famous tonight.”
This story came to light last September, when an MSNBC columnist quoted the Mayor as calling the Mississippi Legislature “paternalistic and racist.” The Mayor continued, “You cannot allow people to take dominion over you in a way that they do in no other community…they only do it in the blackest city.”
Two days later, at City Hall, the Jackson City Council passed a RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI OPPOSING HOUSE BILL 1020. As a reminder this is the bill authored by a white Christian republican legislator from northern Mississippi, 1,040 pages long that seeks to create a Capitol Complex Improvement District Court System, bypassing the existing Hinds County Court System and also to expand the CCID Capitol Police jurisdiction well into northeast Jackson. Ashby Foote, the republican President of the Jackson City Council voted for the Resolution. The resolution can be read here: https://storage.googleapis.com/proudcity/jacksonms/uploads/2023/02/9b167f01-special-council-meeting-2.3.2023.pdf. State Senator David Blount (D 29) appeared at the Council meeting and stated in part, “”This bill in particular is by far the worst because it strikes at the very constitutional rights of the people of Jackson and, by extension, the constitutional rights of every Mississippian to elect their judges.” Council members Lee, Foote, Hartley, and Banks were present for the vote, Stokes, Grizzell, and Lindsay were not.
The action by City Council joins a lengthy list of organizations and entities opposed to HB1020 including the Mississippi Black Legislative Caucus, the entire Hinds County Democratic Delegation, Mississippi Senate Democratic Caucus, Hinds County judicial officers, Mississippi Center for Justice, and scores of others.
MCJ attorney Paloma Wu reminds us that the CCID began in 2017 “focused on infrastructure issues,” last year they installed their own CCID Police Force – which has found it necessary to shoot and kill several unarmed Jackson residents in its tenure of just seven months – and Wu went on to say that “the power of over 200,000 Hinds County residents would be placed in the hands of one person – Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph.”
Adding insult to profound injury, 18.758% of sales tax revenue that would go to Jackson would be reallotted to the Capitol Complex Improvement District project fund. At the January 31st press conference on the steps of the Capitol, Mayor Lumumba stated, “we get to put all the action in someone else’s hands and pay the taxes to the king,”
Fair-minded people see all this for what it is – blatant and racist disregard for the people of Jackson and their autonomy. There’s nothing Christian about denigrating or usurping the rights of citizens because they are Black. This attempted take-over is unconstitutional and morally wrong – Jackson will not lay down. MCJ Director of Impact Litigation, Rob McDuff, recently put a pragmatic point on this legislative effort – “if HB1020 passes, see you in court.”