Representatives from Black Voters Matter and Jackson citizens met at the Mississippi State Capitol on March 14 to continue to advocate for Jackson amidst the passage of HB1020 and other legislation that seeks to take authority from the state’s capital city. Carol Blackmon, the senior state organizing manager for Black Voters Matter Fund, says that Jackson has been under “constant legislative attack during the 2023 legislative session.”
Jackson’s Black citizens make up 82% of its population. Blackmon says that white state officials and legislators are being “ruthlessly racist” in their “desire to stage a hostile takeover of the majority Black city of Jackson.”
Representatives John Lamar (R-District 8 – Lafayette and Tate counties), Fred Shanks (R-District 60 – Rankin County), and Price Wallace (R-District 77 – Rankin and Simpson counties), who do not live in or represent Jackson or Hinds County, introduced HB1020 apparently to find a way to reduce crime in the city.
Jackson has ranked number one in the nation in murders per capita for two years. According to the Jackson Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2021 was the deadliest year in the history of the city with 153 murders compared to the 133 murders in 2022. So far in 2023, there have been 18 homicides compared to 23 by March of 2021 and 2022. Additionally, the bill sought to decrease the backlog in court cases by creating a separate court district.
Due to objections from the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, other Democratic legislators, community organizations, and citizens, the bill was heavily amended in the House and the Senate. As the bill stands now, five temporary judicial seats would be added to the Hinds County court system and the Capitol Police, whose original responsibility was to protect state-owned property in the city, would now police the entirety of Jackson. This iteration was passed in the Senate on March 7 and awaits passage from the House.
Nevertheless, longtime community activist and former state representative Kathy Sykes vehemently emphasized that she and other community members are going to continue fighting to kill this bill. She led the crowd in a call and response chant of “Stand up! Fight back!” at the press conference.
“We went to our leadership and we asked for funds for the city of Jackson in lieu of taxes. Most of our prime real estate is occupied by government buildings that pay no taxes. We begged and pleaded for help for Jackson. When the Capitol Complex bill passed we thought we were getting extra funding from the state to help with infrastructure. Instead of the 18.5% that municipalities get, we thought we were getting an additional, I think, 6% on top of that.”
The Capital Complex Improvement District bill was passed in 2017. It set up a separate district within the city of Jackson that encompasses approximately 8.7 square miles and includes “many of the city’s major institutions and assets – JSU, UMMC, Downtown Jackson, Jackson Medical Mall, LeFleur’s Bluff, Smith Park, Belhaven University, Millsaps College, and many more,” states the CCID Master Plan. Additionally, in July 2021, Governor Tate Reeves expanded the role of Capitol Police to cover much of the CCID. Sykes and other Black legislators believed that the bill sought to get “streets paved and sewer lines fixed” in the area.
“Look at where we are now,” expressed Sykes. “This innocent, or what we thought at the time, bill has morphed into a takeover bill.” Blackmon says that it is a “…land and power grab by white state officials of a majority Black-controlled institution, tax revenue, and political power.”
Sykes continued, “That’s why we’re against this legislation. It sends the wrong message. It would have you believe that Black folks cannot govern. And we can.”
“This is another reason why we have to register; we have to vote,” impressed Sykes. “We have to participate in the process because if we do not, this is the type of policy we get from our state.”
Longtime civil rights activist Wendell Paris and community organizer and state representative candidate Rukia Lumumba were also present and gave remarks.
The Black Voters Matter Fund works statewide in Mississippi and in other southern states to “increase power in marginalized, predominantly Black communities” by way of effective voting strategies. To volunteer or aid in their efforts, visit https://blackvotersmatterfund.org/.