The NAACP sued Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves after he signed legislation allowing state authorities to exercise more control over law enforcement in Jackson, including expanding the Capitol Police, which shot four people on last year without much public explanation.
He lawsuitfiled electronically late Friday in the US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, accuses Reeves and other state officials of unfairly singled out Jackson, a predominantly black city battling violent crime and an overburdened judicial system.
The laws Reeves signed Friday create a temporary court system outside the control of the city run by appointed judges and prosecutors who will handle cases brought to them by the Capitol Police, a once shadowy agency that has been He has given power to patrol the capital.
Those moves strip Jackson residents of their voting power and silence their voice in how justice is administered in the city by circumventing Mississippi’s existing system, in which voters choose their judges and mayors, who appoint their police chiefs, NAACP officials said.
They cited as an example the statement by the mayor of Jackson, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, order 2020 change the Jackson Police Department’s use-of-force policy, which prohibits chokeholds, requires de-escalation techniques, and requires officers to intervene if they see another bureau using unnecessary force. The Capitol Police, which has not publicly updated its use of force policy. since 2006it is part of the state Department of Public Safety and is not subject to city policies.
The two new state laws are racially discriminatory because they target only Jackson, the NAACP lawyers argued. The legislation creates a new court system in a part of the city known as the Capitol Complex Improvement District. The new judges will be appointed by the president of the white court of the Supreme Court; the new prosecutors will be appointed by the attorney general of the white state; and the Capitol Police are led by a white chief who reports to a white public safety commissioner who reports to a white governor.
The new laws “radically and unconstitutionally limit the ability of majority Black Jackson residents to live as full-fledged citizens with full rights in their own city,” the lawsuit says.
Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP and a longtime Jackson resident, said in an interview that the lawsuit is part of a broader effort to roll back years in which the state stifled Jackson’s independence. Last year, the civil rights organization accused the state of depriving Jackson of money needed to improve its failing water system. A state environmental official has denied that it happened.
Instead of creating a new court system and bringing in a state police agency, Mississippi should add more elected judges to represent Jackson and give Jackson money to hire more city police officers, Johnson said. One of the new laws raises the possibility of Jackson getting an additional elected judge, if case data shows a need.
“Our goal is to ensure that the citizens of Jackson are not treated as second-class citizens, that the city is not singled out as an outcast, and that citizens can be sure that they have safe, clean drinking water, can elect the candidate of their choice. , and have a law enforcement agency that supports them and doesn’t demand to take over,” Johnson, who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in an interview. «This is how democracy works.»
The growing role of the Mississippi Capitol Police in Jackson
- Last summer, the Mississippi Capitol Police launched a street crime unit to police parts of Jackson well beyond government buildings.
- The agency has an unusual level of authority for a state capitol police force, and has faced criticism for aggressive patrols in the majority-black city.
- In December, a Capitol Police car chase ended with an innocent 49-year-old woman shot in the arm as she lay in bed. Surveillance video appears to show the moment an officer opened fire. The shooting remains under investigation.
The lawsuit alleges that the new laws violate the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution. It also points to a provision that gives the Capitol Police broad power over the approval of events held on or next to state government property. NAACP lawyers said the provision could stifle people’s right to hold protests or other activities protected by the First Amendment, including expressing their disapproval of the new law enforcement and judicial agency.
The lawsuit also names Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, Mississippi Chief Justice Michael Randolph, Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell and Capitol Police Chief as defendants. from Mississippi, Bo Luckey. The NAACP said it brought the lawsuit on behalf of its Mississippi and Jackson chapters, Jackson residents and local civil rights activists. The organizations said they want the state to be barred from making the changes outlined in the laws.
Reeves said in a statement that the legislation is intended to help a city suffering from «an unprecedented crime epidemic,» which includes a murder rate that has put Jackson among «one of the most dangerous places in the world.» Reeves said the accusations of racism, pushed by «liberal activists» and «the national media,» were false.
Reeves rejected representations of the state taking power away from Jackson’s people. Capitol Police will help city police fight crime, he said. The new court’s decisions can be reviewed by elected judges, he said. The legislation improves transparency by requiring the Department of Public Safety to hold four public meetings a year and for Capitol Police officers to wear body cameras, Reeves said.
“There is a clear consensus that more law enforcement officers are needed on the ground in Jackson, especially given that the city’s police department has been chronically understaffed by at least 100 officers,” Reeves said.
The other defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Tindell has previously defended the work of the Capitol Police and vowed to increase the agency’s transparency.
bracey harris contributed.