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“It reminds me of apartheid”: Segregated judicial system and more police for America's Blackest city

Jackson, a city in which 82.6% of its 156,803 population are Black, will soon have a separate court system and a police force that is appointed entirely by white state officials after a heated debate in the Mississippi House that went on for over four hours.

A new district within the city will be governed by two judges appointed by the white chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court if House Bill 1020 becomes law later this session. The district will include all of the city's majority-white neighborhoods. The white state attorney general will appoint four prosecutors, two court clerks, and four public defenders for the new district. In addition, the white state public safety commissioner will oversee the expansion of Capitol Police, led by a white chief.

In Mississippi's capital city, 80% of residents are Black, the highest percentage in any major American city. Over the past 30 years, Mississippi's legislature has been completely controlled by white Republicans, who redrawn districts so that no Democratic vote is required to pass any bill. Most Democrats are black, while every Republican legislator is white.

On Feb. 7., the bill passed 76-38 largely along party lines following thorough and passionate opposition from Black House members.

“Only in Mississippi would we have a bill like this … where we say solving the problem requires removing the vote from Black people,” Rep. Ed Blackmon, a Democrat from Canton, said while pleading with his colleagues to oppose the measure.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who has faced public criticism from the white Republican majority in the legislature, watched the debate from the gallery for most of the debate. Earlier this year, Lumumba accused the Legislature of practicing "plantation politics" regarding Jackson, and said of the new bill, “It reminds me of apartheid.”

Rep. Blackmon, a civil rights activist who has championed voting rights for decades, compared the current legislation to the Jim Crow-era 1890 Constitution that denied Black Mississippians voting rights.

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

The decision, made by white Republican legislators, to split its judicial district in two by race and install an enlarged police force in a city with the largest Black population in the country is rooted in the paternalistic history of racial segregation, Jim Crow terror, and the still bleeding legacy of chattel slavery.

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