The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a complaint against the state of Mississippi over House Bill 1020, the bill that will allow Republicans to create a separate court system and expand police jurisdiction within the city of Jackson.
In the complaint, the DOJ said the bill is “racially discriminatory” and that H.B. 1020 denies “Black residents of Hinds County the rights of self-government and local control over local institutions enjoyed by all other Mississippians.
“Mississippi state lawmakers have adopted a crude scheme that singles out and discriminates against Black residents in the City of Jackson and Hinds County,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in a statement Wednesday.
“Our complaint alleges that Mississippi has violated the U.S. Constitution by creating a new, two-tiered system of justice – which erodes the authority of Black elected local officials and creates a new system to be led by judges and prosecutors hand-picked and appointed by state officials. This thinly-veiled state takeover is intended to strip power, voice and resources away from Hinds County’s predominantly-Black electorate, singling out the majority Black Hinds County for adverse treatment imposed on no other voters in the State of Mississippi. The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice remains committed to identifying and challenging all acts of discrimination targeting Black communities.”
The complaint also asks the court to prohibit the appointment of new judges and prosecutors by state officials and provide other necessary relief.
“One of the hallmarks of justice and the United States Constitution is equal protection under the law,” said U.S. Attorney Darren J. LaMarca for the Southern District of Mississippi in a statement. “We want to ensure that the citizens of Hinds County and Jackson, Mississippi, are treated equally in the support and operation of their criminal justice system.”
Despite local voters electing judges and prosecutors, the white chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court would appoint judges to oversee a new district within the city.
Judges would also not be required to live in Jackson or the county where it’s located.
If the bill goes into effect, at least 50% of circuit judges in Hinds County will be will appointed by the white chief justice rather than elected by Hinds County’s majority-Black voters.
According to AP, the court would have the same power as municipal courts, which handles misdemeanor cases, traffic violations and initial appearances for some criminal charges.
The white state public safety commissioner would then oversee an expanded Capitol Police force, run currently by a white chief.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson applauded the DOJ’s decision to file a complaint against the state of Mississippi.
“When our state leaders fail those they are supposed to serve, it is only right that the federal government steps in to ensure that justice is delivered,” said Johnson, who is a Mississippi native,” said Johnson. “The NAACP is proud to have led the charge in holding Gov. Reeves and the legislators who advanced these bills accountable for their attempts to undermine democracy and silence the voices of Black Mississippians. This fight is far from over, and with the Department of Justice moving to join us, we are more hopeful than ever that this case will result in a positive outcome for Jackson.”
Jackson, Mississippi is more than 80% percent Black, arguably the Blackest city percentage-wise in the United States. Sadly, 33.8% of the state’s Black population lives below the poverty line.
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