EDITOR’S NOTE: Pick a Side is a series that presents two or more dissenting arguments revolving around any recent discourse. This series is not limited to politics by any means; in the scope of this series, anything is worthy of debate. Responses and topic suggestions are welcomed and strongly encouraged. Ultimately, this series serves as a metaphor for the irony rooted in bipartisan ideology.
Legislators from all over the state are back in our capital city of Jackson for another session of the Mississippi Legislature. Prospective laws seeking to manage Jackson’s future have fueled a controversial topic of debate.
Jackson, our most populous city, has a rich, although stained, history and stunning architecture. Its location in the heart of the American South would make one think it would be a regional hub, a family-friendly place to stop on the way from Memphis to New Orleans. However, the city has wandered far off path.
If passed, House Bill 1020 would place Jackson under unique rules. The capital city’s court system would be heard by Supreme Court appointed judges, and the Attorney General would appoint prosecutors. Is congress out of bounds in this attempt to restructure Jackson?
Due to decades of municipal mismanagement, Jackson has made national news several times for all of the wrong reasons. Most recently, the city government has continuously failed to provide its citizens with its most basic need: water. The city’s troubles do not stop there; Jackson’s notorious potholes give visitors both car damage and the accurate impression of a city in rapid decline.
Jackson is supposed to be the best our state has to offer. It is often Mississippi’s first and only impression to outsiders. I am not pointing out Jackson’s deficiencies to insult the city; I am pointing them out because they need fixing. House Bill 1020 could start the process.
Perhaps the most important challenge Jackson faces is curbing crime. In fact, Jackson rates higher in homicides per capita than any other city in America. That’s right, higher than Chicago, St. Louis and Baltimore.
Crime plagues the city, but justice cannot be delivered due to a backlog in cases. Jackson has so much crime that judges cannot fulfill the accused’s right to a speedy trial.
House Bill 1020 takes steps to alleviate this problem. The bill expands the Capitol Complex Improvement District, hires more police and allows the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to appoint two judges and the Attorney General to appoint prosecutors to hear the multitude of backlogged cases.
Critics of the bill have decided to shift the conversation to their favorite subject: race. The ACLU goes as far to say the bill is “a parallel to Jim Crow.” This, of course, is absurd. Fixing a problem for a majority Black populated city is not racist; it is the opposite.
Jackson has the potential to be a great place to live, work and raise a family. Our legislators should ignore the race-baiting and take the first step in solving Jackson’s crime problem by passing House Bill 1020.
There are many steps that Jackson must take to offer an even somewhat appealing nesting spot for tourists. Lowering crime is certainly near the top of the list, but House Bill 1020 is not an appropriate solution.
Constituents do not want this. If they did, the bill would have been introduced by a Jackson legislator who knows what people in the city want. Instead, this bill was authored by a Republican representative whose district is nearly 200 miles north of Jackson, Trey Lamar.
This isn’t to say that senators and representatives should only consider the districts they oversee. It is extremely out of touch, though. All of the men and women elected to represent Jackson voted against the measure, excluding one. This is exceptionally telling. Once again, the people of Jackson, the largest city in the state, do not want this.
In many ways, the proposal and implementation of a law like this are akin to Jim Crow policy that suppressed Black voters in the 20th century. Put it like this: Jackson, arguably the blackest city in America, would be forcibly relegating court authority to a state government that does not have the reputation for building trusting relationships with its Black citizens.
Stripping voting rights is hardly ever a good thing. In most cases, it’s an attempt to undermine democracy and take control.
Democracy has been undermined and manipulated for decades, even centuries now. The state’s legislative branch may be the best example of this. Republican lawmakers can pass most legislation with little resistance due to gerrymandering.
When the government should intervene is the overarching debate here. Clearly, there is too large of an imbalance in control to fairly discern what is best for Jackson. Even if things were more even-keeled, when should the government take the reins? Jackson’s decades-long era of deterioration seems like the ideal situation for a government takeover, but how sure are we that the state knows best and will do right by the citizens who are largely against the loss of their vote?
Cass Rutledge is a sophomore majoring in public policy leadership from Madison, Mississippi.
Justice Rose is the opinion editor from Madison, Mississippi. He is a sophomore journalism major.