Policing Lumumba’s Jackson: Surveillance and Credible Messengers in the Most Radical City
Mayor Lumumba’s unabashed support of police demonstrates that his administration lacks the political courage and will to chart a new course.
“The more Lumumba proclaims radicalism, the more he flirts with social control and suppression of fundamental human rights.”
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, once a critic of the institution of policing, has done an about-face in his first two years as mayor of the City of Jackson. From allowing killer cops to go unpunished to offering no affirmative resistance to the federal law and order initiative Project Empowering Jackson Eliminating Crime Together (EJECT), Mayor Lumumba continues to give unmitigated fealty and resources to the police state in Jackson despite the fact that law enforcement has been embroiled in controversy throughout his tenure. Instead of dealing with the issues of crime and violence in a straight forward and honest manner, the mayor continues to speak out of both sides of his mouth. Lumumba’s tendency to doublespeak about crime and violence were on full display during his State of the City Address delivered on October 24, 2019.
Mayor Lumumba said that you can’t out police crime, but his generous allocation of resources to the Jackson Police Department (JPD) speaks louder than words. In March, Jackson’s city council approved the purchase of 24 new police SUVs and 241 tasers. In June, the city spent $306, 000 to outfit JPD officers with body cameras. The city also utilized a $300,000 grant from the Department of Justice to purchase cloud space and training associated with the body cameras. In September, Lumumba announced the purchase of 46 new police vehicles for JPD. The city has also aggressively recruited and graduated more police officers from its police academy and installed an assortment of new tools of surveillance in South Jackson.
The liberal reform of outfitting officers with body cameras might be praiseworthy if there was evidence that body cameras have had a tempering effect on the violence of the police state. Body cameras have been incorporated into the surveillance repertoire of police departments throughout the country. Since doing so, it has been discovered that video footage of acts of violence have been erased or that the devices were disabled during violent encounters with civilians. Police have killed unarmed people with impunity with their body cameras rolling. Body cameras have very little deterrent effect on police violence because violence is embedded into what it means to police poor and black people. Body cameras also expand the burgeoning surveillance state.
Has the city of Jackson enacted policies to ensure that the use of body cameras actually act as a check on police misconduct? How can residents be assured that body cameras won’t be used to surveil individuals in violation of their civil and human rights? These are questions that should not go unanswered by the Lumumba administration.
Expanding the Police State and Doubling Down on the Status Quo
Lumumba boasted during his address that JPD has graduated its first class of recruits in four years with plans two graduate two more classes of recruits, one of which will graduate before the fiscal year’s end. If crime cannot be out-policed, why is the mayor allocating resources toward more officers when the social conditions that create crime continue to fester?
The mayor’s contradiction demonstrates a commitment to the status quo. His unabashed support of police demonstrates that his administration lacks the political courage and will to chart a new course. The Lumumba administration has deliberately decided to situate itself within the status quo that has failed to adequately address what lies at the root of crime and violence not only in Jackson, but throughout the world. Support of the institution of policing shows an unwillingness to acknowledge that the root cause of violence is state violence that is visited upon poor and working people by the military, police, and various political, economic and social institutions that they are tasked with protecting and upholding.
Capitalism and Greed Lie at the Root of Crime and Violence
Lumumba points to a correlation between poverty and crime, but refuses to acknowledge how the greed and exploitation of the rich is at the root of crime and violence in this society. If the mayor truly believes that poverty is at the root of crime, why hasn’t his administration divested resources from the police and re-allocated them toward addressing that poverty? Why does he cheerlead the wealthy’s business and real estate development as synonymous with ordinary people’s development in the city? It is because Lumumba and those of his ilk adhere to the dictates of capital as demonstrated by his previous invitations to corporations to come to Jackson to get rich while “investing in the people.” Capitalists do not invest in cities or their people. Capitalism is the parasite that kills the host. Once the host is dead, the capitalist moves on to the next host. The capitalist is only interested in profits. If a city or its’ residents can’t help a corporation reach maximum profits, the capitalist will discard the city and its’ residents.
The current economic order feeds off of the pain and suffering of the masses of poor and working people. The economic, political and social systems upon which this society is built are designed to generate crime and poverty. In order to eliminate crime and poverty, people must invest themselves in subverting the political, economic and social status quo.
Since the beginning of his tenure as mayor, Lumumba has made it clear through his actions that he has absolutely no interest in upsetting business as usual. His continued and unwavering support of the murderous police makes this incandescently clear.
“If the mayor truly believes that poverty is at the root of crime, why hasn’t his administration divested resources from the police and re-allocated them toward addressing that poverty?”
Lumumba has stated that the city’s “investors” are creating the realization of what it means to live in a “dignity economy.” Lumumba points to the erection of new businesses downtown as evidence of this “dignity economy.” These businesses, owned by individuals, by and large benefit their owners and to a much lesser degree the small staffs they employ for a fraction of the profits that the businesses generate. The development of individual business is no highlight of progress for poor and working people. For example, just a few blocks away from these businesses, houseless people sleep outside on the sidewalk and dig in the trashcans for food throughout downtown. What are these individual business owners doing to eradicate the growing homeless population downtown? What is the city doing besides hiring more police to harass and persecute them? Can a “dignity economy” address the material conditions of poverty and suffering that abounds throughout Jackson? Community gardens or art installations that lead to gentrification and an increase in property values where the poor do not own property is mystification. Why doesn’t the “radical” mayor act to transfer the abundance of empty homes, apartments, and office buildings to the homeless, giving them the deeds?
The only economy that exists in Jackson is a capitalist economy that seeks to degrade and exploit poor and working people. Servants of capital in the form of elected officials are tasked with making poor and working people believe in this system and to believe that somehow working and poor people can live through them and their ascendancy to position[s] that are apart from and above working and poor people. The police state is what anchors such an economy.
Surveillance in the Most Radical City on the Planet
The city of Jackson has established a real time crime center. A real time crime center is nothing more than a euphemism for constant remote police state presence. Mayor Lumumba proudly announced that the first cameras that will be used to provide 24-hour surveillance to the city’s nascent surveillance apparatus will be installed in South Jackson, one of the poorest and blackest parts of the city. This is a dangerous move because there is no limit to the level of privacy that will be infringed upon by the installation of these cameras in this community. These cameras in South Jackson are only the beginning. State sanctioned surveillance, once released upon the community continues to expand. Constant surveillance and policing is a major feature of a fascist state, not a democracy. The revelations of individuals like Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Jeffrey Sterling and Julian Assange should make this clear. However, it appears that the more Lumumba proclaims radicalism, the more he flirts with social control and suppression of fundamental human rights that people everywhere ought to be afforded.
Credible Messengers: The Solution That Doesn’t Solve
While investing millions into the police state, it appears that the best the mayor’s office can offer residents of Jackson when it comes to addressing interpersonal or “street” violence, is a partnership with his sister’s, Rukia Lumumba’s, non-profit the People’s Advocacy Institute (PAI). The PAI plans to work with the city to tackle violence through something called a Credible Messenger’s Program. Credible Messengers are formerly incarcerated persons who are believed to have credibility with individuals who are likely to commit crimes of violence because their experience with being criminalized will allow them to better relate to young people who are susceptible to commit acts of violence. Allegedly, Credible Messengers are not working with the police, but for some reason when the program was unveiled, a representative from JPD held a joint press conference with Rukia Lumumba and the first two Credible Messengers in Jackson.
Rukia Lumumba points to the success of the Credible Messenger program in larger cities like Chicago, New York and Washington D.C. However, the last time I checked instances of interpersonal violence were still quite prevalent in all of these cities. Upon visiting the Credible Messenger website there is no sign of any quantifiable impact that the program has had in larger cities, every success is merely anecdotal.
Given the spontaneous nature of acts of interpersonal violence, it will be interesting to see how this program will be able to disrupt these acts in Jackson. As a defense attorney, most of the cases that I’ve seen that involve someone being murdered or assaulted arise out of the heat of passion. It seems that there is no way for someone to know when these incidents will occur. This will make it hard for someone to be present to de-escalate such situations. It is not clear how the success of Credible Messengers is determined, but the program seems to be yet another solution that does not solve. Rather, it derives from the non-profit industrial complex, yet another way for individuals to benefit from the pain and suffering of poor and black people that is caused by capitalism and white domination.
The only real solution to end violence is the upending white capitalist domination and black capitalist aspiration and the systems and institutions that derive from them. Working people must be in control of their own lives and futures. We should not be dictated to by servants of capital in the form of politicians or social justice warrior non-profit managers. Violence could be reduced overnight if this society was willing to divest from the institutions that cause pain and suffering and foment violence such as the police state and the prison industrial complex which both are an outgrowth of capitalism and are absolutely necessary for its’ functioning.
State Violence Begets Street Violence
If the Lumumba administration is serious about curbing crime and violence then it should start by realizing that the police department that he is showering with surveillance gadgets and other resources has a monopoly on violence that he continues to lend legitimacy. He should stop supporting the economic violence of capitalism that exploits and robs people of their labor which in turns creates millions for individuals who run the corporations he invites to “invest” in Jackson. The violence that is experienced on the streets of Jackson is a mere symptom of the descending violence that the State heaps onto the heads of working and poor people through criminalization, police state violence, political subjugation and economic exploitation.
As Mayor Lumumba took the stage to Hip Hop music to give his state of the city address, he reminded us, that in his own way, he is “a credible messenger.” He has never been a gang member or convict, but his authenticity came from somewhere else.
The Mayor came to power by aligning himself with Cooperation Jackson’s work. Now he insults Cooperation Jackson in his speech by suggesting the role of that organization is to inspect what he is doing, offer social criticism and to keep the administration honest. If the Lumumba administration and Cooperation Jackson enjoy this symbiotic relationship, why did Mayor Lumumba and his sister threaten to sue the organization if they did not remove the name of the elder Chokwe Lumumba from the organization’s center after director, Kali Akuno, offered an individual criticism of the Lumumba administration’s politics and orientation? It should be clear that Lumumba’s campaigning under the Cooperation Jackson umbrella was merely a façade to invent a credible messenger. This is further evidenced by the administration’s promotion of the “dignity economy” framework of compromise with capital, as opposed to Cooperation Jackson’s promotion of the solidarity economy and cooperative development, which seeks to directly challenge the domination of society by the forces of capital, like transnational corporations and finance banks. The mayor is well aware of this, yet chose to advance his own selfish political ambitions to the detriment of the interests of the masses of working and poor people in Jackson. To give a speech with feigned counter-blows against outsiders and speak of “national stakeholders” such as the Kellogg Foundation, Bloomberg Foundation, and Aspen Institute, reveals that for all Mayor Lumumba’s talk about integrity, dignity, police accountability and collective genius, his only “genius” so far is discarding and restricting those that helped make him a credible messenger for those who wish to contain the instinct toward liberation.
Adofo Minka is a defense attorney who lives in Jackson, MS. He can be reached via email at [email protected].
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