The NAACP filed a lawsuit Friday to challenge new legislation signed by Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves that expands the state’s law enforcement reach in the city of Jackson and implements major changes to its judicial system.
The laws signed Friday “represent a state takeover of Jackson” and strip residents of their right to democratically elect leaders, the NAACP said in a statement.
One of the laws, SB 2343, will expand the state-controlled Capitol Police jurisdiction from its current boundaries around state buildings to a substantially larger portion of the city. The other, HB 1020, will establish a new court system within the boundaries of a state-created district.
The legislation will strengthen public safety in Mississippi’s capital city amid a spike in crime, Reeves said in a statement, and Capitol Police officers will provide “additional bandwidth” for Jackson’s officers to patrol other parts of the city.
“This legislation won’t solve the entire problem, but if we can stop one shooting, if we can respond to one more 911 call – then we’re one step closer to a better Jackson,” Reeves said.
Critics have strongly opposed the two bills as they went through the state legislature, saying such changes would put mostly White, conservative state officials in control over much of a Democratic city where more than 80% of residents are Black.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has previously called the legislation to create an unelected court system “an attack on Black leadership.”
NAACP officials say the state can instead do more elsewhere to alleviate problems in Jackson.
“If elected officials in Mississippi want to help address the results of their negligence and improve the lives of Jackson residents, they should start with completing improvements to Jackson’s water system, not undermining the constitutional rights of their citizens,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement.
The new court system established will be within the boundaries of a state-created district known as the Capitol Complex Improvement District – an area that includes the state Capitol building, downtown, Jackson State University, and nearby neighborhoods and businesses.
That judge will be appointed, not elected, by the Republican state chief justice with prosecuting attorneys appointed by the Republican state attorney general to help with low-level cases.
Republican lawmakers who pushed the legislation say it’s needed to address huge court backlogs and to stem violence that spiked in the city in recent years – much to the disagreement of the laws’ critics.
The laws “represent a disturbing regression, rolling back decades of progress by stripping Jackson residents of their fundamental right to democratically elect leaders, undermining the authority of those they have elected, and severely restricting their first amendment right to freedom of speech,” said former US Attorney General Eric Holder, who is senior counsel at the law firm that filed the NAACP’s suit.