In Jackson MS, police killings continue while the city's radical mayor lifts cop residency requirements and remains silent.
In the last few months Jackson's supposedly radical mayor has lifted residency requirements for city police officers, and remained silent on a wave of officer involved shootings
“Black-on-Black violence is not merely an expression of personal anger or merely the result of a psychopathological personality, but it is more a result of a psychopathological system and I want to impress upon people that Black-on-Black violence serves a social function.”
-Dr. Amos Wilson
Wealth and Greed Cause Crime and Violence, Not Poverty
To have a deeper understanding of the origins of crime and violence in this society we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that crime and violence grow out of poverty. The standard line of neoliberal “progressives” and self-proclaimed “radical” politicians is that crime is a by- product of the poverty that many Black people are forced to live under. Nonetheless, this is not true.
Elite greed impoverishes the masses, and crime and violence grow out of obscene amounts of wealth, out of the victimization, exploitation and oppression of the poor needed to acquire such wealth. The fact that a large percentage of the planet’s natural resources are owned and hoarded by a small percentage of the planet’s population is the root cause of crime and violence. We need to begin to more readily accept the correlation between greed of the elites on the one hand and poverty and criminalization of the poor Black masses on the other. Everywhere on this planet where we see corporations and corporatists allowed to operate with impunity without any regard to the human rights and needs of people, we see poor people turning in on themselves by victimizing one another through crime and violence.
Crime in Jackson, Mississippi’ s Mayoral Race
Like most predominantly Black cities throughout the United States Empire, in Jackson, MS, the issues of crime and violence take center stage. During the past mayoral election in Jackson when Attorney Chokwe Antar Lumumba was elected mayor of Jackson, nothing was different, save the rhetoric of then mayoral candidate Lumumba.
As a mayoral candidate, Lumumba balanced his resolute support for getting more resources to the Jackson Police Department (JPD) to “fight crime” if elected mayor, with the rhetoric of a holistic approach to crime. After five months in office he has indeed supported giving the Jackson Police Department additional resources to aid in their “crime fighting” efforts, taking a “tough on crime” stance. But the Lumumba administration has yet to engage in any efforts to advance this “holistic” approach to crime and violence. .
Lumumba Vows to Fund Police and Be Tough on Crime
A little over a month over after taking office, the mayor held a press conference at city hall, surrounded by law enforcement, council members and Duane O’Neill of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce in which he asserted “We will be tough. We will be tough. We will be tough when it comes to crime.” Lumumba quickly attempted to clean up this law and order mantra by saying, “but we will also be intelligent and seek to eradicate the conditions that lead to [crime].” But what does that tangibly mean? While Mayor Lumumba renewed his commitment to look at the city’s budget to provide the resources needed to hire more officers, he made no concrete commitments regarding his “holistic” approach to crime. Lumumba’s press conference was so popular with conservative forces in Jackson that it was published on a right-wing conservative blog.1
The new mayor’s “holistic” approach to crime has yet to be seen even in theory. So far, there are no verbal commitment to allocate much needed resources from the city’s budget to address homelessness, to provide mental health services or alcohol and drug treatment. These are basic human needs that are not being met for many Jackson residents, issues that cannot be solved by policing, but many times play a major role in the “crimes” committed in Jackson. The municipal government has a duty to ensure that these services, which are human rights, are funded and provided to its residents who need them.
Doubling Down in His First Radical 100 Days
In what the Lumumba administration dubbed its’ first radical 100 days, Mayor Lumumba doubled down on his commitment to providing additional resources and support to the Jackson Police Department, in part by bringing in a class of new recruits into the JPD. Yet again, Lumumba discussed his plans to take a “holistic” approach to addressing crime without any concrete plan or even a clear theory as how such important work would get done.2
Lumumba did mention giving young people “something to do”. But again he offered no specifics on how he would “radically” reduce youth unemployment in the city, demilitarize the public schools by ordering all police removed from school facilities or how he would utilize the various city community centers that are a part of the city’s parks and recreations department to engage young people. All of these things are reasonable starting places to show the administration’s commitment to this vague “holistic” approach to crime. Instead the administration seems more committed to efforts that are politically safe and expedient, not the radicalism he continues to promise the residents of Jackson.
A Brief Analysis of the Black Police Officer in a Fundamentally Racist and Elitist System
One thing that Jackson police officers and some residents are proud of is how the JPD is made up of members of the community who are familiar with Jackson and its people.
Seniors in the community recall a time when the City of Jackson only had one Black police officer and he only had authority to arrest other Black people. It’s understandable why some Black residents, especially those who are not poor, take pride in a predominantly Black police force. But given the relationship of the police to poor people generally and Black people specifically, this is not justifiable in the least.
The reality is that police departments are tools of social, political and economic control. The history and origins of police departments, and their continued use as tools of oppression against Black people, political and cultural dissidents and organized labor make lauding any police department, Black or white ridiculous.
Policing is about power, control and occupation. As Lord Acton warned us centuries ago, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In this society, police have absolute power to advance the economic, political and economic interests of the elites, not the masses of poor people. It makes no difference the color of the skin of an officer because the policing system itself dictates to individuals, not vice versa. If the interest of maintaining the status quo says that a Black police officer has to break the neck of another Black person, that officer will do so. We have seen this play out time and time again in this country. It is no different in Jackson. Lumumba’s seven months in office bears this out.
Officer Involved Shootings and Extra-Judicial Killings in the Most Radical City on the Planet
Since Mayor Lumumba’s inauguration on July 1, 2017, there have been at least seven JPD officer involved shootings that have been reported by local media. The earlier of these shootings took place on November 15, 2017 and the most recent took place on January 27, 2018.
November 15, 2017: Two Officer Involved Shootings in One Day
The first shooting that occurred on November 15, 2017 involved a man that demonstrated some disturbing behavior that showed signs he was either mentally ill or under the influence of drugs. Moments before the man was extra-judicially killed by JPD officers, a paramedic had been called to assist the man. Paramedics refused to assist him because of his erratic behavior.
According to JPD’s narrative, when officers approached the man, he had his hands in his pockets. When asked to remove them, he allegedly produced a knife, lunged at an officer and was and killed. The identities of the responsible officers have been concealed and they were placed on paid administrative leave. The name of the victim has yet to be released. Additionally, the results from the JPD’s investigation have not been released to the public. The only narrative that the residents of Jackson have is the one that JPD provided to local media outlets.3
The second officer involved shooting on November 15, 2017 took place after a man tried to avoid a road block and the police chased him. The chase turned into a foot pursuit. During the course of this pursuit, officers say the victim had a black object in his hand which they claimed was a gun, and that he shot at them. He sustained a gunshot wound to his leg. News reports do not say whether the officer was placed on administrative leave or whether an internal investigation was done. They also did not indicate whether a gun was recovered from the victim. The Lumumba administration has remained silent on this officer involved shooting.4
November 24, 2017
On November 24, 2017, JPD officers were involved in a shooting that involved two men during a traffic stop. Matthew Tate, who was charged with aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer and the driver, fled the scene after the officer began shooting into the vehicle. Tate received a gunshot wound to the head. This was not reported by the media, however. It is not clear whether the officers involved have been investigated or placed on leave. 5
December 1, 2017
On Friday, December 1, 2017, there was an officer-involved shooting areported at the Studio 7 Extended Stay Motel. No further details were reported by local media about this incident.
December 5, 2017
On Tuesday, December 5, 2017, another officer-involved shooting occurred on Biloxi Street in Jackson. Again, no further details were reported by local media.6
January 4, 2018
JPD kicked off the new year firing multiple shots at 27-year-old Reginald Harper after a Popeye’s manager told an officer in the drive-thru that Harper was acting erratically. A chase ensued a number of JPD officers fired at Harper, but he escaped unscathed. The next day, he was apprehended and charged with aggravated assault against a police officer. Though officers claim Harper had a gun, there have been no reports that a gun was found on his person or that anyone ever saw Harper with a gun during the incident, which happened in broad daylight. From a preliminary investigation of the incident, there is certainly no evidence that Harper ever fired a weapon.7
January 27, 2018
On the morning of January 27, 2018, 21-year-old beloved mother, daughter and Jackson State University student, Crystaline Barnes was gunned down by JPD officers. JPD alleges Barnes attempted to run them down with her car when they initiated a traffic stop after receiving a call that Barnes supposedly attempted to run another motorist off of the road.8
To date, JPD has not been forthcoming about any information other than that which would incriminate and scandalize Barnes. Per usual, the officers involved in Barnes’ killing have been placed on paid administrative leave. Anthony Moore, JPD Interim Police Chief and a man lauded by Mayor Lumumba as being “familiar with national trends” in criminal justice, has refused to reveal the identity of the officers involved in Barnes’ killing.9 JPD has refused to discuss whether the officers have been the subject of other internal investigations for police misconduct. Moore has been quite vague about JPD’s use of lethal force policy and refuses to release that policy to the public. It is clear from Moore’s handling of this case that Lumumba was correct in his observation of Moore. He is quite in line with the national trend of denying basic fundamental information to the public about extra-judicial killings and doing everything to evade critical questions while covering for and justifying the murderous tactics of his officers. 10
To add insult to injury, the Clarion-Ledger, a daily newspaper in Jackson, has joined in the fray by engaging in character assassination against Barnes while her family still mourns her death. The rag of a paper reported that Barnes was once in a pre-trial diversion program and had outstanding traffic tickets. Like in the aforementioned officer-involved shootings and extra-judicial police killings, As usual, JPD is being allowed to investigate itself. Even in the most “radical” city on the planet, the families of the victims of extrajudicial killings are afforded no respect, no peace and nothing like due process.11
Silence on Officer Involved Shootings Speak Volumes
The Lumumba administration has issued no statements about these office-involved shootings or extrajudicial killings. This is quite ironic given that before being elected mayor, Lumumba represented the family of Jonathan Sanders, a man who was choked to death in Stonewall, Mississippi for allegedly trying to take an officers weapon after a bizarre “traffic” stop while riding a horse. Prior to his election Mayor Lumumba had been quite vocal about police abuses and the extrajudicial killings of Black men, women and children. It is quite disappointing to see that as a mayor, Lumumba appears to have done a complete 180 degree turn on this very serious issue.
As an attorney, I understand that there are certain legal ramifications that prevent city, county, state and even federal officials from commenting on certain matters pertaining to ongoing investigations of officer involved shootings or any litigation involving the State for that matter. Nonetheless, Mayor Lumumba has had no problem declaring his administration would be tough on crime. He has had no problem on other sensitive legal matters such as the process of awarding contracts, or city compliance with the DOJ’s edict on sanctuary cities. What stops the administration from holding a press conference about these officer involved shootings? What prevents the mayor from declaring his administration is dedicated to ensuring that the human rights of all of Jackson’s residents would be respected, protected and fulfilled in during interactions with the police?
Silence on Project EJECT
Two months ago, Trump appointee, U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst announced the launching of Project Empowering Jackson Eliminating Crime Together (EJECT).12 Project EJECT is a tough on crime initiative of the US Department of Justice under Attorney General Jefferson Sessions. The major aim of Project EJECT is to federally prosecute poor black people in Jackson and send them outside of the State of Mississippi to serve their prison mandatory sentences. In short, Project EJECT cannot be described as anything other than an ethnic cleansing program to make way for capitalist development in Jackson.
The Lumumba administration has been deathly silent on Project EJECT. Recently, Lumumba has indicated that Project EJECT was in place before he came into office under another name Project Safe Neighborhoods. While this is true, it tells us nothing about where the Lumumba administration stands in relationship to Project Eject. Will the JPD going to participate in this effort? Project EJECT needs cooperation from city and county law enforcement agencies in order for the initiative to have any teeth. Given the potential impact that Project EJECT will have on the city, Mayor Lumumba’s silence is disappointing to say the least. At a certain point, silence becomes consent, complicity and a rubber stamp of approval.
Opening the Flood Gate: Facing the Danger of Racist Infiltration of JPD
Less than two months ago, the Jackson City Council voted 6-1 to lift a residency requirement that had previously mandated that all city police and fire department personnel reside within the city of Jackson. This decision was spurred on primarily by pleas from former JPD Chief Lee Vance that the city does not have enough officers to fight crime.13 Like many things, on its’ face, this may seem harmless, but in the proper political context, this decision that was not given any push back from the Lumumba administration, can have some serious consequences for the residents of Jackson.
In 2006, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released an unclassified seven page memo that law enforcement agencies throughout the United States were being infiltrated by members of white supremacist organizations such as the Klu Klux Klan. The number of white supremacist infiltrators have been increasing as this revelation was swept under the mainstream rug. Those who know the history of this country and its law enforcement agencies were not surprised because white supremacist have been a part of the policing system since the antebellum period when there were slave patrols.
Given Mississippi’s history lifting fire and police residency requirements is potentially dangerous. Until now, racist bigots from neighboring counties such as Madison and Rankin could not legally apply for jobs as police officers in Jackson. Whether the residency requirement was actually being enforced in the first place is another question, but the JPD is now wide open to the type of white supremacist infiltration that was “discovered” by the FBI over a decade ago. This political blunder belongs to the Lumumba administration since police chiefs serve at the pleasure of the Mayor. Chief Vance could not have come before the city council with his melodramatic plea to remove the residency requirement without first getting the blessing of the Lumumba administration.
Shameful, But Nothing New
The Lumumba administration’s reticence to take a more radical position on crime is shameful, but unfortunately, it is not novel. In his book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, law professor James Forman, Jr. meticulously documents the role that Black elected and appointed officials played in the expansion of the mass incarceration of Black and poor people in the United States. Many Black mayors, police chiefs, city council persons and a host of other Black officials called for tougher drug laws, stop and frisk practices designed to get guns off of the streets and mandatory minimum sentencing policies that has led to the caging of millions of poor Black people.
Like Mayor Lumumba’s empty rhetoric about a “holistic approach” Forman explains that these black elected officials and others called nost just for tougher punishment, but also for a “Marshal Plan for Black America,” a plan which never emerged. But the criminalization of poor Black communities did proceed, with devastating and long term effects. Black people have gone along with this type of game for far too long and it is time to stop. The Lumumba administration is following a well traveled path History shows the results of calling for more resources for police officers while failing to meet the needs of people plagued by drug addiction, mental disability, miseducation and white domination.
Gatekeepers of the Status Quo
We must understand that any elected official who is not fighting with the people to dismantle the current systems and institutions of white domination that include the established political, economic and social orders, are not serious about eliminating crime and violence. They are not concerned with building a new and better society regardless of their rhetoric to the contrary. They are only interested in personally benefitting from the system as it currently is. A new radical order and the old order cannot exist together. The current systems that are in place cannot produce justice for Black or other downtrodden peoples. They are psychopathological, self-defeating and only aim to punish and control Black and poor people.
What Can Be Done
Granted, Lumumba has only been in office for seven months. Nonetheless, his short time in office makes his law and order stances even more disconcerting. However, it is my hope that Lumumba will find the political courage and will to deviate from this politically expedient stance.
The reality that we face today is evidence that we cannot address crime with more police. We can address the symptoms that lead to crime. We can work to dismantle the current system that causes crime and violence. We can build a system the addresses people’s concrete needs so they won’t have to engage in crimes.
In the next city budget, Lumumba should advocate for reducing the amount of money allocated to the JPD in the city’s budget. The city also needs to work to ensure that funds are allocated to address mental health, drug and alcohol abuse and homelessness. All conscientious people throughout this country who supported Lumumba’s campaign should engage in political struggle with him to deviate from this dangerous course that has proven to be a failure. Doing anything less is an agreement with the law and order orientation of the Lumumba administration up to this point and the damage that it will do to poor Black people in Jackson.
Adofo Minka is a human rights defense attorney in Jackson MS. He can be reached via email at adofom1(at)gmail.com.