Rep. Shanda Yates, I-Jackson, presents legislation in House Chamber at the Mississippi Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Jackson. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The House of Representatives in a mostly partisan and racially divided vote on Wednesday revived its measure to expand the area inside Jackson where state-run Capitol Police can patrol to include neighborhoods where most of the capital city’s white citizens live.

After lengthy debate on Wednesday that served to highlight ongoing racial tension under the dome this session, the House passed Senate Bill 2343, which leaders overhauled with language that died earlier in the session that would expand the state police jurisdiction to only a specific district within Jackson, the Blackest large city in America.

The final vote was 67-45, with most white, Republican, non-Jacksonians voting for it, and all Black lawmakers, Democrats and all but one member of the Jackson delegation voting against. A few white Republicans also voted against the measure, most on grounds it would expand state government spending and state police powers.

Rep. Shanda Yates, an independent from Jackson and the only “yea” vote from Jackson’s delegation on Wednesday, said her legislation is aimed at curbing crime in northeast Jackson and helping an understaffed Jackson Police Department.

“This is simply a response to Jackson residents who live in this proposed district who want more police. That’s it,” Yates said.

The Senate passed a separate measure on Tuesday that would give Capitol Police jurisdiction inside the whole capital city, not just in a limited district like the House measure passed on Wednesday. The leaders of the two chambers would have to iron out that disagreement as the 2023 legislative session enters its final three weeks.

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Meanwhile, bitter debate continues over several other measures that Jackson leaders, advocates and national media have labeled a hostile state takeover of governance of a majority Black city by a majority white state Legislature.

“This is the most depressing legislative session I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them,” Rep. Ed Blackmon, a Canton Democrat who has served in the Legislature for 40 years, said on Wednesday. “…The uncomfortable truth is, this has nothing to do with solving crime.”

Yates, who lives in a neighborhood already patrolled by Capitol Police after its jurisdiction was expanded last year, panned the overburdened and understaffed local Jackson Police Department during debate. She did not directly answer several questions from her fellow Jackson lawmakers about why the state has not appropriated funding for the city’s struggling police department.

“Right now, if you call 9-1-1 in Jackson, you will not get anyone at all … you will more than likely not get an answer,” Yates said in response to a question about the need for the bill.

Rep. Zakiya Summers, a Democrat from Jackson, held a phone aloft during the House debate and told Yates, “We just called 9-1-1 and got an answer right away.”

“You’re lucky,” Yates responded.

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Opponents of the bills to take over policing, infrastructure and other functions in Jackson say the state should provide the city resources to deal with a decades long loss of tax base, not take away its local sovereignty and create a separate police force and cordon off more white areas of the city. They say lawmakers have not, and would not, force such measures on other cities, and that such moves are a knock on Black governance.

Several Jackson lawmakers continue to point out that their white colleagues pushing this legislation have not brought them to the table to discuss how to address the city’s crime problems.

Rep. Robert Johnson, the House Democratic leader from Natchez, said Capitol Police, once a small force mainly charged with security in and around state office buildings downtown, doesn’t have homicide detectives, holding facilities, a 9-1-1 system or other infrastructure to police one-third of Mississippi’s largest city. He said the agency will be asking lawmakers for millions of taxpayer dollars to boost their existing presence and processes — funds he argued should go to the city or elsewhere in the state budget.

Proponents of the bills, though, say the state is trying to help with soaring crime rates, water and sewerage and other issues that have reached crisis levels.

During floor debate of her Capitol Police measure on Wednesday, Yates called it a “last-ditch effort.”

“I have constituents who will leave Jackson,” she said.

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.