The Republican-dominated Mississippi House of Representatives on Tuesday approved the creation of a new court system that will be appointed by state officials — all of whom are white — for the capital of Jackson, which is 80% Black and home to a higher percentage of Black residents than any major American city, according to Mississippi Today.
The change would be a break from the rest of the state, where judges and prosecutors are elected by voters.
After over four hours of debate, the chamber passed the bill that would create an unelected state-appointed court system within the city of Jackson and would also expand a separate capitol police force, overseen by state authorities.
The bill has faced significant criticism since it was first introduced last month. During the debate, the state's Black caucus compared the bill to the state's Jim Crow-era constitution of 1890.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said last week that it "reminds me of apartheid."
"It's oppressive because it strips the right of Black folks to vote," Lumumba said. "It's oppressive because it puts a military force over people that has no accountability to them. It's oppressive because there will be judges who will determine sentences over people's lives. It's oppressive because it redirects their tax dollars to something they don't endorse nor believe in."
After facing opposition from Black members of the House, the bill passed 76-38 Tuesday mostly along party lines and will now travel to the state senate, where Republicans also hold a significant majority.
The legislation was proposed by House Republican Trey Lamar, who is white and does not live in Jackson, The Guardian reported. He represents a district in the state's northwest, which is majority white.
When he came forward to propose the bill Tuesday, Lamar said Jackson has a crime problem and a judicial backlog that must be managed.
"I don't know what you've heard, I'll say that, but this bill is designed to help make our capital city of Mississippi a safer city," Lamar said. "This bill is designed to assist the court system of Hinds County, not to hinder it. It is designed to add to our judicial resources in Hinds County, not to take away. To help, not to hurt."
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When Lamar was asked if any of his constituents had asked for the bill during floor debate, he responded: "I don't live in Jackson … but you know what I like to do … I like to come to Jackson because it's my capital city."
Critics of the bill have said that it is opposed by Jackson residents and leaders within the court and does little to address the root causes of crime, The Mississippi Clarion Ledger reported.
"I have not heard that anyone from the City of Jackson, Mississippi who is an elected official is in favor of this," said Rep. Edward Blackmon, D-Canton. "This is a land grab, has nothing to do with crime."
He added that if the state was serious about addressing crime in Jackson then it would increase funding for the state crime lab, which has been cited by law enforcement leaders as a major cause of backlogs.
"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."