The NAACP is suing to stop two new laws designed to give the State of Mississippi more control over the City of Jackson and alleging they amount to race-based discrimination in a 52-page lawsuit the organization filed in federal court Saturday. Gov. Tate Reeves signed the bills at issue, House Bill 1020 and Senate Bill 2343, into law on Friday after months of controversy.
The two bills represent “a state takeover of Jackson,” with the S.B. 2343 bringing “the entire predominantly Black city of Jackson under control of the state-run Capitol Police,” the organization said in a statement Saturday. The NAACP said the law will restrict “Mississippi residents’ ability to protest and hold demonstrations in and around buildings considered property of the state, requiring written approval from the Chief of the Capitol Police or the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety before ‘any event’ occurs.”
“The second bill, H.B. 1020, creates a new court with an unelected judge appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court, which will have the ability to hear and determine all preliminary matters and criminal matters within the District,” the statement said. “The bill also continues a court packing plan by appointing unelected Circuit Judges to the Seventh Circuit Court District in Hinds County.”
Reeves, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell, Capitol Police Chief Bo Luckey, Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph and Attorney General Lynn Fitch are all listed as defendants in the lawsuit.
The Mississippi attorney general’s office was closed Monday for the State’s Confederate Memorial Day observance, and the Mississippi Free Press did not get a response to a request for comment for this story.
The “laws target Jackson’s majority-Black residents on the basis of race for a separate and unequal policing structure and criminal justice system to which no other residents of the State are subjected,” the plaintiffs allege in the lawsuit.
“Under this new regime and unlike in any other jurisdiction in Mississippi, in certain areas of Jackson, a citizen can be arrested by a police department led by a State-appointed official, be charged by a State-appointed prosecutor, be tried before a State-appointed judge, and be sentenced to imprisonment in a State penitentiary regardless of the severity of the act,” the plaintiffs argue.
But in social media posts after signing the bills into law Friday, Reeves claimed that the bills are not “designed to take power away from the people who live in our capital city.” The governor defended the move to give Capitol Police primary jurisdiction over the expanded Capitol Complex Improvement District and concurrent jurisdiction with Jackson Police Department over the rest of the capital city partly because “the city’s police department has chronically been understaffed by at least a hundred officers.”
“This means if Capitol Police needs to serve a warrant on a rapist, drug dealer or murderer, they now can arrest them outside of the CCID. We should all support that,” he wrote. “Despite what you’ve seen in the media, the new law does not take away power from Jacksonians or their elected judges.”
But Shuwaski Young, a Democratic candidate running for Mississippi secretary of state this year, disagreed. In a statement Friday, he said H.B. 1020 “represents a stunningly brazen example of big government and unfettered systemic racism against the people of Jackson, Mississippi. Moreover, this latest action by Gov. Reeves is a national embarrassment to our beloved state, and more importantly, a terrible injustice to the people of Jackson—a predominantly Black city,” Young said.
In his organization’s statement Saturday, NAACP President Derrick Johnson, a native of Mississippi, also harshly criticized the new laws.
“As our country continues to face the reality and consequences of our broken law enforcement and criminal justice systems, passing legislation to increase policing, install undemocratically appointed judges, and infringe on the constitutional right to protest is simultaneously irresponsible and dangerous,” he said.
Former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., who served under former President Barack Obama, is part of the plaintiffs’ legal team as senior counsel at Covington & Burling L.L.P.
“Mississippi House Bill 1020 and Senate Bill 2343 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,” Holder said in the NAACP statement. “This Legislative body has proven that they are uninterested in upholding their sworn oath to protect the constitutional rights of their constituents, including the majority Black residents of Jackson.”