“The Jackson police department’s actions expose them as a violent thug operation that needs to be disarmed and eventually disbanded.”
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s task force, established through Executive Order, has been meeting since April 11, 2018 to decide the question of whether to release the names of Jackson Police Department (JPD) officers who engage in violence against civilians.[i]The task force continues to move at horse and buggy pace while a neighboring municipality moved expeditiously to punish and remove officers who engage in acts of police state violence.
On May 21, 2018, in neighboring Laurel, Mississippi, Mayor Johnny Magee and the Laurel Police Department’s (LPD) captain Tommy Cox, moved swiftly and decisively when they announced the firing of two LPD officers who repeatedly kicked 36-year-old James Barnett in the face. The brute force was exacted against Barnett after he fled from the officers after attempting to evade a police check point. The barbaric act took place on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. It took Laurel’s Mayor and LPD a mere five days to reach their decision while the community and family members of victims of extrajudicial killings by JPD still remain in the dark about most of the facts and circumstances surrounding their killings.[ii]
Four people have been killed by JPD officers since Mayor Lumumba took office on July 1, 2017.The Jackson Police Department’s first victim was a Black man who seemed to be suffering from some form of mental illness based on the narrative provided by JPD. He was shot and killed on November 15, 2017.[iii]
“None of the officers have been internally disciplined or criminally indicted.”
Crystaline Barnes, a 21-year-old Black woman, mother and college student, was killed by JPD under dubious circumstances on January 27, 2018. A team of lawyers representing the Barnes’ family are beginning to pick apart JPD’s narrative of what happened and JPD’s account seems improbable.[iv]
Lee Edward Bonner died in the hospital on February 26, 2018 after being shot by JPD officers five days earlier. JPD alleges that Bonner shot at them after they chased him on suspicion that he was engaged in drug trafficking.[v]No facts or evidence have been released by JPD that corroborates their allegations that Mr. Bonner was engaged in the distribution of drugs at the time that plain clothes officers chased and gunned him down. [vi]
JPD officers killed Elliot Reed on May 9, 2018 after officers approached him and his brother Chauncey Reed at a gas station. A physical struggle ensued which resulted in gun fire being exchanged by Chauncey Reed and JPD officers which led to JPD killing Elliot Reed. [vii]
In addition to the four people who have been killed by JPD, two others have been shot. One person was shot at and charged with attempted aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer when there was no evidence that the victim attempted to do any harm to JPD officers. To the contrary, it seems that the victim was running to avoid the fate visited upon the aforementioned persons killed by JPD.[viii]
“The community still does not know the identities of the officers involved.”
All of the officers involved in these acts of violence were or are on administrative leave and continue to be paid by revenues generated by the taxes that residents have to pay. None of them have been internally disciplined and none of the officers have yet to be indicted criminally. The community still does not know the identities of the officers involved. Although JPD will neither confirm nor deny, the legal team of the Barnes’ family has done an investigation that has led them to believe that the officer who killed Barnes was the same officer who killed the man whose identity is still unknown on November 15, 2017.[ix]
If the Laurel PD can act so swiftly in a situation that involved no loss of life, why has the Lumumba administration failed to act on cases where people were killed or maimed by JPD? Some of the cases have been “under investigation” for months. Laurel PD conducted an internal investigation and made a decision to terminate the officers in five days. Instead of ensuring that the human rights of civilians are respected, protected and fulfilled, Lumumba continues to give cover to JPD by bogging down the process of accountability and transparency in a task force that is little more than a farce and a pacification of the residents of Jackson in hopes that all of this will just “blow over.” However, it will not just “blow over” because JPD’s actions expose them as a violent thug operation that needs to be disarmed and eventually disbanded.
“Lumumba continues to give cover to JPD by bogging down the process of accountability and transparency.”
The task force is loaded with Lumumba family members, close long-time political allies and JPD officers.[x]The most ironic and disturbing thing about the task force is that the chairman of the task, attorney CJ Lawrence, represents Barnett in the incident that occurred in Laurel. Lawrence was also Lumumba’s former law partner. The Laurel police officers who barbarically attacked Barrett faced some consequences for their actions while Jackson officers have faced none. JPD officers on Lumumba’s task force have vehemently opposed the release of the identities of the officers who have killed and/or brutalized civilians. Something is disturbingly wrong with this picture.
The task force is little more than a mechanism to absolve Lumumba of any personal responsibility with respect to its decision. No matter what decision is made, Lumumba will be able to place responsibility at the feet of the task force. This is disingenuous to say the least. Lumumba chose particular people for a reason. He did not place any family members of victims on the task force. He did not place any civilians who have disagreed with the way in which the city has handled this issue publicly. Lumumba has literally fixed the deck and absolved himself of any personal responsibility in one stroke of his pen through an Executive Order.
“Every law enforcement agency throughout this country and internationally needs to be disarmed and abolished.”
For those who may be confused, we must be clear. Pointing to Laurel Police Department’s swift punitive actions against the officers who violated Barrett’s human rights is not an endorsement of LPD or any law enforcement agency. Swift punishment for officers who violate the constitutional and human rights of civilians should be par for the course. There is no model police department because in our eyes, such an entity represents a fiction that flies in the face of our political principles and ideology as revolutionaries. Our position is clear. LPD, JPD and every other law enforcement agency throughout this country and internationally needs to be disarmed and abolished. From their inception, they have been used as an occupying force and means of social control of the popular masses and a personal military force and buffer for the wealthy ruling class elites who steal the labor and build wealth on the backs of the popular masses. We simply use the situation in Laurel to pull the covers off of a municipal government administration that claims to be the most radical on the planet, but in actuality it is not even the most “radical” in the central Mississippi region when it comes to holding police accountable to the human rights principles of accountability, transparency, equity, universality and participation.
We call on the Lumumba administration to do the following: 1) Fire all officers involved in violence against civilians; 2) Establish a use of force policy that includes tangible and direct participation by the popular masses; 3) Release the names of officers involved in acts of violence against residents immediately; 4) Conduct an internal audit into all JPD policies, procedures and practices and allow the popular masses to be involved at every stage of the process; 5) Establish a human rights charter and an elected human rights commission with subpoena and investigative powers to ensure that all civilian’s human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled and 6) Disband the task force appointed by Lumumba because it is not a genuine representation and expression of the popular masses, but instead is little more than an appendage of the state and its manipulative machinations of the people.
Adofo Minka is a human rights attorney and founder of the America Means Prison Initiative (AMP), a grassroots community effort aimed at addressing police state violence and supporting communities impacted by the violence and dehumanization of incarceration. He lives in Jackson, MS and can be reached by email at [email protected].