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A row of cars labeled Police - City of Jackson
Sean Brown responds to the Jackson Police Department’s failure to report 24 additional homicides in the capital city in 2023. “It’s a scary thing to think that Black families are losing loved ones and the arm of government apparently meant to protect them is withholding information,” he writes. Photo courtesy of the Jackson Police Department

Opinion | Hidden Homicides: ‘An American Legacy of Violence’ 

“Being poor and Black,

I’ve no weapon to strike back

So who but the Lord

Can protect me?”

— Langston Hughes

Black people are a group that has already endured innumerable offenses and injustices. So many of our lives have been lost to violence just in 2023 that the abyss calling for a couple dozen more Black souls would certainly go unnoticed, right? If they don’t see our names or witness our pictures, is it possible that we didn’t exist? In a world in which we see the loss of Black lives dramatized, sensationalized, publicized and normalized, a few more shouldn’t hurt, should it?

Marcus Smith died on July 12, 2023. He was 33 years old.

A police cruiser murdered Dexter Wade. His mother looked for her son for at least five months. The Jackson Police Department had him buried before she knew anything. Wade is one of more than two dozen homicides last year that JPD failed to report to the public. We don’t know if all the 18 Black people murdered in these unreported homicides were victims of police violence, but we do know that JPD didn’t release this information to the public. It’s a scary thing to think that Black families are losing loved ones and that the arm of government apparently meant to protect them is withholding information. We now know of these, but it begs the question, “Are there more?”

Patrick Scott died on May 4, 2023. He was 21 years old.

In Jackson there could be more. In January 2023, former JPD Police Chief James Davis said that overall crime in the capital city had dropped 30% from 2021 to 2022. Then WLBT conducted an investigation in April 2023 and calculated a 11.7% decrease. These inaccuracies lead people to question the motives behind not reporting the murder of two dozen people. Is it possible that JPD has been misrepresenting crime data in an effort to make it appear that Jackson is safer and crime is falling? Jackson, Miss., has the current reputation as “America’s Deadliest Major City.” The murder rate in Jackson is 87 per 100,000. Could this lead to holding back and not reporting homicides?

Man in police uniform standing outside of a white building
In January 2023, Former JPD Police Chief James Davis inaccurately reported a 30% decrease in overall crime in Jackson, Miss., from 2021 to 2022. After conducting an investigation, WLBT revealed that overall crime actually decreased 11.7%. Photo courtesy City of Jackson

Jackson would have a strong reason to be hypervigilant of crime rates as Gov. Reeves signed bills that expand state control of Jackson policing. The Governor cited increased crime in the city as rationale for the bills that give Capitol Police primary jurisdiction and install a judge elected by the Mississippi supreme court. It seems like the Governor is using high crime rates as an excuse to exercise control over a mostly Black city. The American perception of crime, and the criminal Black man myth, has been historically used as a tool to increase systemic control over Black people (see the “War on Drugs”). That would suggest that there is a hidden motive behind the bills being passed that negatively affects Jackson.

‘To Be Black in the South’

Perhaps someone has a stake in Jackson’s decline. Statistics demonstrate that increased policing does not lead to a decrease in crime in predominantly Black communities. In some cases, it produces the exact opposite. However, if crime increases in Jackson, schools continue to close and decline, and the water remains toxic, perhaps people with means could swoop in and capitalize on the despair. Perhaps these things would expedite a gentrifying of Mississippi’s capital city.

William Ransburgh died on May 1, 2023. He was 18 years old.

It’s known that 18 of the 24 people murdered in the previously unreported homicides were Black. It’s not clear if their race was a leading factor in their death or the failure of JPD to report it to the public; But to be Black in the South and have your murder go unreported or unnoticed is not a new thing in America. Our country has a long history of Black death being swept under the rug. The more we look at what happened to people like Dexter Wade, the more we should be reminded of an American legacy of violence against Black bodies coupled with systemic silence.

Leshada Williams died on Feb. 18, 2023. 

Gov. Tate Reeves standing at a podium outside of a gas station. Officers and men in suits stand behind him.
Gov. Tate Reeves and representatives from several law-enforcement agencies announced “Operation Unified” in Jackson, Miss., on Feb. 13, 2024. The collaboration is a joint partnership to curb violent crime and drug trafficking in the capital city, organizers say. Photo by Imani Khayyam

Black people were lynched in mass during the Reconstruction era. It is possible that there were more than 4,000 lynchings during this time in American history. We will never know all the names, all the sons and daughters lost, or where all the bodies were scattered. What we do know is that America has a history of state sanctioned violence used as a tactic of fear and power to maintain control over its Black citizens. The recent discovery of 24 unreported homicides in Jackson, 18 of which were Black people, is eerily similar to the horrors of the past. It reminds us that the past is more present than America would like to believe. Lynchings of Black people during Reconstruction were sometimes silenced because of the negative perception of the South that their reporting could create.

Maybe these homicides weren’t reported because of the negative perception of Jackson they would create. What they did create is fear. The fear that as a Black person in Mississippi, you could be killed and no one would know anything about it for months. It’s the fear that the very police that should protect the victims of crime, would simply keep silent while your family suffers. This is white supremacy, and it doesn’t matter what race the mayor is, or the police chief is. What matters is how the powers that govern Jackson and Mississippi and America view Black lives. What matters is that it’s 2024 and we are still trying to convince people that Black Lives Matter.

Marrio Terrell Moore died on Feb. 2, 2023. He was 40 years old. 

“Why can’t you just come and just tell somebody that their child is gone?” These are the words of Marrio’s mother. They remind us of just how scary it is to be the mother of a Black son. They remind us that at any moment, your child, your gift from God, can become another Black mass swept under America’s filthy rug, and submerged under centuries of crime against people that look just like him. We as Black parents hold our babies close and pray silent prayers to God in the form of kisses on their foreheads that somehow they might outlive us.

“I am just afraid to raise a Black son.

Who will spend

the rest of his life

praying for a melody,

or a melanin

Safe enough to scream in,

a son who has to be a martyr

for a war he never asked for.”

— Jasmine Mans

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints. 

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