JACKSON, Mississippi. (AP) — One black MP and nine whites have been selected to debate final bills that could expand the state police department in the black-majority capital of Mississippi.
Critics say the bills are a way for the Republican-controlled state government to take control of Jackson, who is 83% black and run by Democrats.
The black MP chosen as negotiator, Democratic Rep. Earl Banks of Jackson, said Tuesday his goal is to make the city safer. Jackson, with a population of just under 150,000, has seen over 100 murders in each of the past three years.
“I think the citizens of the City of Jackson want more police protection, and the Capitol Police could be the answer to that,” Banks told The Associated Press.
Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, both Republicans, on Tuesday completed the selection of senators and representatives to work on the final versions of two bills. The negotiators have a deadline to complete their work by 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 has overwhelming majorities in the House of Representatives and the state Senate.
“This is 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 a wider area to patrol inside Jackson.
One of the bills would also create a broader role for judges who are appointed, not elected, a proposal that critics say disenfranchises in a state where many older blacks still remember they were denied access to the ballot until federal suffrage. The 1965 law became law.
Banks, who has voted against both bills so far, told the AP he doesn’t think the final proposals will create new permanent courts with appointed judges, as House Republicans originally sought. However, he said that he thought the Capitol police would get a larger patrol area.
“I heard from doctors. I heard from lawyers. I heard from retirees,” Banks said. “People want more protection than they do now.”
The Jackson Police Department covers the entire city, but is understaffed. Capitol Police are currently on patrol near state government buildings in and around downtown. The Senate voted to expand the territory of the Capitol Police to the entire city, but the House of Representatives voted to expand only through relatively wealthy shopping and residential areas, including some predominantly white neighborhoods.
Banks acknowledged that some Jacksonians have expressed concern that the Capitol police force is more aggressive than the city’s police force.
“It won’t be martial law,” Banks said.