Miss. lawmakers vote to create a separate, all-white-appointed court and police system

If House Bill 1020 is passed into law, the white chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court would designate two judges to preside over a new district that would encompass all of Jackson's majority-white neighborhoods. 

Mississippi’s mostly white legislature has voted to implement a separate, appointed court system and expanded police force in its capital city, which has the highest percentage of Black residents of any major American hub. 

Even though the capital, Jackson, has an 80 percent Black population, white Republicans dominate the state’s Legislature, which they have completely redesigned over the past 30 years to pass any law without needing any Democratic votes, according to Mississippi Today.

Suppose House Bill 1020 is passed into law later this legislative session. If it is, the white chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court will designate two judges to preside over a new district that will encompass, among other regions, all of the city’s majority-white neighborhoods. 

all white court system x trey lamar
State Rep. Trey Lamar, a Republican, addresses questions from fellow members of the Mississippi House of Representatives. Lamar authored House Bill 1020, which would create a separate, all-white court and police system in Jackson, the state’s capital. (Photo: Barbara Gauntt/Clarion Ledger/USA TODAY NETWORK)

Judges and prosecutors in the state’s municipalities and counties currently are elected by local residents. The appointments by state officials would replace such elections in Jackson and Hinds County, Mississippi Today reported.

The law passed the House on Tuesday 76-38, mostly along partisan lines, despite vehement and passionate opposition from Black members. All but one representative of the city of Jackson, Rep. Shanda Yates, a white independent, rejected the bill — which two Black members of the House supported.

For the new district, the white state attorney general would choose four prosecutors, four public defenders and a court clerk. The white state public safety commissioner would lead an expanded Capitol Police force, which is run now by a white chief.

The annual cost of the new court system is projected to be $1.6 million.

State Rep. Trey Lamar, a Republican from Senatobia, 172 miles north of Jackson, authored the legislation he claims is an effort to make Jackson safer. Lamar focused on the significant backlog of cases in Hinds County courts and said that the law aims to “help, not hinder” the court system.

“My constituents want to feel safe when they come here,” said Lamar. “Where I am coming from with this bill is to help the citizens of Jackson and Hinds County.”

Most of the Jackson-representing House members claimed that leadership never asked for their opinion on the bill, which would double funding for the district to $20 million to expand the size of the Capitol Police force. That police department has drawn harsh criticism for several shootings in recent months.

The Capitol Complex Improvement District, which includes much of Jackson’s downtown, the state government office complex and other regions, was established by the Legislature in past sessions. The approved legislation would expand the current district to include north to County Line Road, south to Highway 80, east to the Pearl River and west to State Street.

Democratic Rep. Ed Blackmon of Canton pleaded with his colleagues to vote against the bill, which must be approved by the state Senate and governor to become law, according to published sources. The civil rights activist said it’s “about a land grab,” not preventing crime, and he compared the legislation to the Jim Crow-era 1890 Constitution meant to deny voting rights to Black Mississippians.

“Only in Mississippi would we have a bill like this,” Blackmon said, “where we say solving the problem requires removing the vote from Black people.”

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