Mississippi lawmakers are moving forward with a bill that would expand a state-run police department in Jackson, the mostly-Black and Democratic-led capital city. The proposal, which the Republican-led state Legislature is finalizing, has sparked controversy, with critics saying it would infringe on local self-governance and create uneven justice systems within the city.
The proposed expansion aims to curb crime in a city of 150,000 residents with over 100 homicides per year for the past three years. However, detractors fear the move would lead to a police state in Jackson, which has the highest percentage of Black residents among major US cities.
The state Senate passed the final version of the bill on Thursday, despite objections from Democrat John Horhn of Jackson, who called it “toxic.” Thirty-one Republicans voted in favor, while 15 Democrats voted against it. The House is expected to pass the bill on Friday.
If approved by Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, the proposal would create a temporary court within a Capitol Complex Improvement District in a part of Jackson. A judicial appointee, who does not have to live in Jackson, would preside over the proceedings. The court would handle misdemeanors, traffic violations, and some criminal charges initially, similar to other municipal courts.
The proposal has brought tensions between the Republican-controlled state government and the Democratic-led capital city into the open. Critics also compared the potential outcomes to racist laws that marginalized Black people after Reconstruction.
While supporters believe expanding the state-run police department will create much-needed change in a city with increasing crime rates, opponents argue that the move will compromise local governance and erode residents’ civil rights.