JACKSON, Miss. – The mother of a 25-year-old Black man who was shot to death by Mississippi Capitol Police last year told some state lawmakers Monday that she strongly opposes giving the state-run law enforcement agency wider territory to patrol inside the majority-Black capital city of Jackson.
“That terrifies me. It also angers me,” Arkela Lewis said of the proposal.
She said her son, Jaylen Lewis, was followed by a white officer in an unmarked car Sept. 25, and the officer shot him in the head during a traffic stop. She said Capitol Police leaders never called her to acknowledge her son's death and she has not yet received an investigative report or autopsy results.
Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell recently said in response to questions from The Associated Press that the death of Jaylen Lewis remains under investigation.
The assistant chief of the city-run Jackson Police Department, a district attorney and several other officials appeared before legislators Monday to denounce a bill that would expand Capitol Police territory within Jackson and create courts with appointed rather than elected judges.
Opponents said the bill would take away voting rights and give white state officials control over what should be locally led law enforcement decisions in Jackson, which has the highest percentage of Black residents of any major U.S. city.
Jackson Police Department patrols the entire city. Capitol Police currently patrols in and near downtown, where state government buildings are located.
The majority-white and Republican-controlled state House voted last month to expand Capitol Police territory to include shopping and residential areas, including some predominantly white neighborhoods. The bill, which awaits Senate debate, would also establish courts with judges appointed by the chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court — a position currently held by a conservative white man.
“This is the first time we've been invited to the table to discuss this bill,” Jackson Police Assistant Chief Joseph Wade said Monday at a hearing hosted by Jackson's legislative delegation.
The sponsor of the bill, Republican Rep. Trey Lamar is from Senatobia, a rural town more than 170 miles (275 kilometers) north of Jackson. He has said it’s aimed at making Mississippi’s capital safer and at reducing a backlog in the judicial system.
Lamar and other supporters of the bill did not attend Monday's hearing.
About 83% of Jackson residents are Black. The city is in Hinds County, with an overall population that's about 74% Black.
Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens said legislators have funded additional assistants for district attorneys in other parts of the state but not for Hinds County.
“I continue hearing so many people say they love Jackson, they love the capital city," Owens said. "If you love us, fund us appropriately so we can give you a safer city of Jackson.”
Hinds County public defender Gail Lowery said her office is “woefully underfunded” and she has trouble keeping attorneys because they can earn $41,000 more per year by working as assistant district attorneys in the same county. Lowery said 90% of people facing criminal charges in Hinds County rely on the public defender's office, which receives all of its financial support from county coffers.
Hinds County has four elected circuit court judges. Lowery said that for decades, the county has needed two more to help carry the caseload.
“Our citizens deserve to have representation by judges who are elected by them,” Lowery said.