Mississippi House OKs new court system — to be appointed by white state officials — for second-Blackest U.S. city, stoking tension
- The Mississippi House has approved the creation of a new court system within the capital of Jackson in which judges and prosecutors in the overwhelmingly Black city would be appointed by white state officials.
- A bill creating the new court system passed despite intense opposition by Black legislators.
- Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who like 80% of city residents is Black, reportedly said, "It reminds me of apartheid," after watching the debate from the House gallery.
- Local residents elect judges and prosecutors in every other county court system in the state.
The Mississippi House has approved the creation of a new court system in which judges and prosecutors would be appointed by state officials — who all happen to be white — for the capital of Jackson, which has the second-highest percentage of Black residents among U.S. cities.
The bill proposing the new court, which needs approval from the state Senate and governor to become law, was overwhelmingly passed Tuesday by a supermajority of white Republican legislators after intense opposition by Black Democratic legislators, news outlets reported.
The change would be a break from the rest of the state, where judges and prosecutors are elected by voters.
If approved by the state Senate and governor, the court system and its judges would preside over a so-called improvement district spanning Jackson's downtown and shopping and entertainment areas.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who — like 80% of city residents — is Black, reportedly said, "It reminds me of apartheid," after watching the debate from the House gallery.
If the new Jackson court system is approved by the Senate and governor, its judges and clerk would be appointed by the state Supreme Court's chief justice, who is white.
And prosecutors would be named by the state attorney general, who also is white.
The bill's author, Republican Rep. Trey Lamar, cited reports of Jackson's high crime rate in arguing for the new system, as well as an expanded police force that is part of the legislation, the Mississippi Today news outlet reported.
"This bill is designed to make our capital city of Jackson, Mississippi, a safer place," said Lamar, who lives more than 170 miles away from Jackson. He, like every one of his GOP colleagues, is white.
Rep. Ed Blackmon, a Democratic lawmaker and civil rights leader who opposed the measure and is Black, said, "Only in Mississippi would we have a bill like this … where we say solving the problem requires removing the vote from Black people," the outlet reported.
Blackmon noted that the new court would handle both criminal and civil cases.
"This bill is about helping to fight crime?" Blackmon said, according to the Clarion-Ledger newspaper. "What does civil litigation have to do with crime in the state of Mississippi?"