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The Mississippi House of Representatives voted to create a new court system in Jackson that includes judges appointed by an all-White group of state officials. Eighty percent of Jackson, Mississippi residents are Black. 

Jackson, Mississippi, has the second-highest percentage of Black citizens in the entire United States. Only Detroit, Michigan, has a higher percentage of Black residents.

The move to a new judicial system for Jackson still needs approval by the Mississippi Senate. A supermajority of White lawmakers in the state’s capital passed the bill.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, answers questions regarding proposed House Bill 1020 that would create a separate district composed of appointed prosecutors and judges for the Capitol Complex Improvement District for a portion of Jackson, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, at the Mississippi Capitol, in Jackson. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Black lawmakers in Mississippi vehemently oppose the new legislation. In every other district in Mississippi, voters elect judges and judicial officials.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has previously referred to legislation in Mississippi as “plantation politics.” According to Lumumba, the new bill “reminds me of apartheid.”

Mayor Lumumba isn’t the only Mississippi elected official to push back against the bill. Representative Ed Blackmon, a civil rights leader who fights for voting rights for disenfranchised Black communities, says the bill is no different from Jim Crow laws. 

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

White Mississippi lawmakers vote to take control over Jackson courts

The new bill creates an “improvement district” covering Jackson, Mississippi’s downtown and entertainment areas. The bill’s author, Republican Rep. Trey Lamar, argued on behalf of the new system due to Jackson’s allegedly high crime rates.

The bill also introduces an expanded police force into the area. According to Lamar, who lives over two hours from Jackson, “This bill is designed to make our capital city of Jackson, Mississippi, a safer place.” 

Yet the new law would cover civil violations as well as criminal issues. Again, Rep Blackmon opposed the legal move, asking, “What does civil litigation have to do with crime in the state of Mississippi?”

Jackson, Mississippi, has been a hotbed of legislative action since the city’s water-system collapsed last year. A third-party now runs the municipal water system. 

Additionally, due to gerrymandering, the state is run by majority White lawmakers. The legislature, which is nearly all-White, decides on voting districts.

For Black citizens in Jackson, Mississippi and across the state, Mississippi is not a safe place to reside. In a five-month period in 2022, Jackson capital police opened fire four times, and citizens have requested a federal civil rights investigation. 

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...

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