JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – One black and nine white lawmakers have been tapped to negotiate final versions of bills that could expand the territory of a state police department within the majority-black capital of Mississippi.
Critics say the bills are a way for the Republican-controlled state government to exert control over Jackson, which is 83 percent black and is governed by Democrats.
The black lawmaker chosen as negotiator, Democratic Rep. Earle Banks of Jackson, said Tuesday that his goal is to have a safer city. With just under 150,000 residents, Jackson has had more than 100 homicides for each of the past three years.
“I think there is a desire on the part of the citizens of the City of Jackson for more police protection, and the Capitol Police may be the answer,” Banks told The Associated Press.
Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn, both Republicans, finished selecting Senators and Representatives on Tuesday to work on final versions of two bills. The negotiators face a deadline to finish their work within the next week.
Banks said he’s not surprised that eight of the negotiators are white Republicans, one is a white independent, and one is a black Democrat because the GOP holds a large majority in the state’s House and Senate.
“It’s the reality of the political world we live in,” Banks said.
Since January, the Mississippi House and Senate have passed different versions of two bills that would give the state Capitol Police Department more territory to patrol within Jackson.
One of the bills would also create a larger role for appointed rather than elected judges — a proposal critics say would disenfranchise in a state where many senior blacks still remember being denied ballot access. before federal voting rights. The 1965 law became law.
Banks — who has so far voted against both bills — told the AP that he doesn’t think the final proposals will create new permanent courts with appointed judges, as House Republicans initially wanted. He did say, however, that he thinks the Capitol Police will have a larger patrol area.
“I heard the doctors. I’ve heard the lawyers. I’ve heard of retirees,” Banks said. “People want more protection than they have now.”
The Jackson Police Department covers the entire city, but is understaffed. Capitol Police currently patrol near state government buildings in and near downtown. The Senate voted to expand the Capitol Police territory to the entire city, but the House voted for an expansion only into relatively affluent commercial and residential areas, including some predominantly white neighborhoods.
Banks acknowledged that some Jackson residents have expressed concern that the Capitol Police are more aggressive than the city police.
“It won’t be martial law,” Banks said.