/As Black Lives Matter protests continue, Mississippi lawmakers consider addressing criminal justice policy

As Black Lives Matter protests continue, Mississippi lawmakers consider addressing criminal justice policy

Soon after Blackmon’s group arrived at Jackson, police stormed the club from many directions, scattering people. Blackmon, now 72, is an influential member of Mississippi House of Representatives. He claimed that he was attacked by Jackson police that night. They knocked out several of him front teeth with a baton, and for no other reason than his skin color. This was the second time he had been physically attacked by police officers in his entire life. He said that the one at the Red Lantern was his worst. He also stated that he fell to his knees, and then he locked his hands behind him head. “That’s what we were taught,” he said. “Hands can heal, but your brain might not.” Blackmon was asked about recent events surrounding George Floyd. Floyd was a black Minnesotan man who was shot to death by Derek Chauvin, who was a white officer who placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes. Protests have been held across the country, including in Mississippi, over Floyd’s death and other recent police killings. Blackmon said that “not much has changed.” “Nothing has changed” More than 40 years later Blackmon and other African American legislators of Mississippi say they believe the cell phone video that captured Floyd’s murder in broad daylight on a Minneapolis street will inspire changes in both attitudes and policy. Mississippi Today spoke to several state legislators about their reactions to Floyd’s death and the actions they took to respond. We also asked them whether or not the state Legislature should take any action to combat police brutality and inequity within the criminal justice system. The Legislative Black Caucus held a Thursday news conference where Rep. John Faulkner (D-Holly Springs) read a list of criminal justice reform legislations that black members had introduced during recent sessions and that have since been killed. Blackmon said that it should also be a fireable offense for officers to turn off a camera while on duty. He also suggested that laws should be changed to reduce the immunity law enforcement officers have from civil lawsuits. The caucus stated in a statement that it was concerned about the importance of relationships between law enforcement officers, communities and law enforcement officers. It suggested that the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus engage heads of state agencies and government to discuss best practices, qualified immunity, and law enforcement training. Gov. Johnson stated that Tate Reeves has the power through an executive order to release prisoners with nonviolent offenses. This would reduce the prison population. He said that if Tate Reeves isn’t willing to do so, then we should be prepared to pass legislation. Rep. Bryant Clark (D-Ebenezer) agreed with Johnson that the state should make more effort to release and rehabilitate nonviolent prisoners. However, this would likely not be possible without the federal government intervening. Clark stated, “Racism in America is America’s Achilles heel.” Mississippi Today interviewed all of the legislators, black and white. They acknowledged the tragic Floyd case. While all supported the right of protest, some were disappointed that laws were sometimes broken during protests. Rep. Kevin Horan (R-Grenada) spoke out about how “terrible” the Floyd case was, but he stated that it did not excuse the conditions following the fact that were taking away the severity of the original crime. Rep. Nick Bain from Corinth, a Republican, said that it was their constitutional right and should be respected. “… I support people protesting. There’s a line between protesting, and rioting, and that’s been evident in some of what we’ve seen.” Ellisville Senator Chris McDaniel, who is a favorite of Tea Party wing the Republican Party said Floyd’s death was “a tragedy” that there is no excuse. McDaniel stated that there are a few bad apples in all professions, including law enforcement. McDaniel said that protesting is “a fundamental American act.” It’s a vital part of our country. But violence, looting, and lawfulness cannot all be allowed. House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton) said that the incident was “shameful.” It is shocking. It is unjustified.” Republican Lt. Governor. Delbert Hosemann stated that he was proud of those who peacefully protested. He said that he met with senators to discuss the possibility of legislation being considered in this session or the next to address the issues. Although Hosemann said that conversations would continue, it is unclear what legislation, if any, would be. It is likely that legislation establishing guidelines for police officers will pass through the Judiciary B Committees. Sen. Brice Wiggins (R-Pascagoula) is the Senate chair. Wiggins expressed outrage over Floyd’s killing but said that “we must all admit… law enforcement put their lives at risk every day to protect our society.” Bain, the Judiciary B chair, also shared similar sentiments. The deadline for introducing legislation has passed. This means that lawmakers cannot introduce any new legislation to address issues without the consent of two-thirds of the chambers. Although lawmakers could make amendments to general bills before the June 17 deadline (though they would have to include a relevant code section), any modifications to the legislation would be subject to approval by both chambers. Bain stated that “We are beyond the capability to do anything real as a Legislature (in this session).” “But sure. “But sure. “Unfortunately, what happened in Minnesota to Mr. Floyd can and does happen in America in other States far too often. Cockerham stated that the nation is hearing a loud cries for help. She said they are now being viewed and treated as human beings. These aches must all be addressed by all 50 states and all U.S. territory leaders,” Cockerham said. She chairs the House Judiciary A, Judiciary En Banc and House Judiciary A committees and expressed hope that the protests will bring about lasting change. Cockerham stated that she supports community review boards, which work closely with law enforcement officials and the judicial system. Cockerham said that criminal justice reform should be prioritized to promote rehabilitation and allow people to re-enter society with no stigma. This is a critical moment in our society’s history. It is too late to remain passive. “We should all unite to achieve equality in our great country.” Make a regular donation to support this work today to celebrate our Spring Member Drive.