Monday, October 24, 2022 marked a significant day in the history of the water problem in Jackson. That is the case but not because it was resolved on that day. In fact, the problem is not likely to be completely and adequately solved for quite some time. Rather, it was significant because on that day a great deal of information was shared with the community that will enable it to rally together more effectively in solving the problem. On that day, advice and recommendations were given that can speed-up the process of solving the water problem.
The occasion for this was a town hall meeting at New Hope Baptist Church on Beasley Road in Jackson, a meeting sponsored by the city, state, and national NAACP, and that featured Congressman Bennie Thompson, NAACP President Derrick Johnson, and Attorney Abre Conner. In attendance were more than a thousand citizens and officials.
Congressman Thompson shared with the audience a seven-page letter that had been written by he and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Chair of the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Reform. In that letter and in his comments, Thompson made several things clear. Among them were: (1) his claim to ownership of the federal funding bills that enabled the state to receive more than $10 billion, since all of the other members of the Mississippi congressional delegation voted against the American Rescue Plan Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, which appropriated the funds; (2) that the state –that is the legislature and the governor, – allocated funds generously to areas such as Madison County, Rankin County, and the Gulf Coast, while Jackson received far less than its needed share; and (3) that Jackson will need within the neighborhood of $1 billion to complete the work on the water system, but through state-imposed caps and procedural requirements will perhaps not be able to reach that level.
In light of what appears to be racially-designed procedures that leave Jackson with too little resources to adequately deal with the water problem, the NAACP has filed a Title 6 complaint against the state, alleging racial discrimination in the allocation of federal funds for such projects. Attorney Abre Conner, from the national NAACP, is the person in charge of that filing. She indicated that Jackson is one of the first cities to file such a complaint under the new title, emphasizing that it is the only community in Mississippi that was required to go through two hurdles in order to obtain the federal funds from the state.
National NAACP President Derrick Johnson advised against in-fighting amongst Black city, county, and state officials, lest they weaken one another’s positions and divert attention from the main assault by conservative white Republicans to take control on not only the water and sewage system, but the public schools, the airport, and municipal decision-making as well. He stressed the need for the officials to rally around a three-point pact – access to safe and clean water, retention of public ownership of the system, and retention of local control of the system.
Both Thompson and Johnson emphasized the fact that the vast majority of the money being allocated and utilized by the state was federal money and thus its spending needs to follow federal guidelines. Conner, Thompson, and Johnson emphasized the fact that there needs to be a federal investigation into how the money has been allocated and the reasons why it has been so allocated, as has been called for by the NAACP. They informed the audience that there has to be a reply to the request for an investigation within 30 days since the complaint has been accepted as having merit.
There was a degree of optimism that spread over the audience when Thompson indicated that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would be the major player in dealing with the damage that the city had suffered as a result of the recent flood and subsequent system failure. There was also optimism over the fact that the federal government had accepted the complaint coming from the NAACP.
Other valuable information gleaned from the meeting included the facts that: (1) in order to move forward with a management organization for the water system, the governor’s office had sent out a request for quotes (RFQ), as opposed to a request for proposals (RFP), which is required by state law; (2) organizations need to administer tests of water samples as a basis for pursuing and prevailing in the complaint against the state; (3) attention needs to be paid to the medical consequences of using the unsafe and unclean water; and (4) that much more has to be done to fix the system’s crumbling pipes across the city, which could increase the amount of money needed.
The meeting was quite successful in that it sent a message to Governor Tate Reeves and other state leaders, revealed a clear set of plans based upon the facts and laws undergirding the situation, and took a giant step toward mobilizing the Black community. On the other hand, there is much work to be done by the mayor and city council as well as supportive efforts from citizens and civil rights groups in order to secure what is needed by the city in terms of its water system.
Many of those in attendance at New Hope Baptist Church, as well as those who heard but were unable to attend, expressed the highest thanks and praises for Congressman Bennie Thompson and the NAACP. They have done and continue to do the things that are necessary to advance racial justice and to protect the interests of the residents of Jackson.