Wednesday, January 6, 2016
The firestorm surrounding what many have deemed controversial comments by Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes have a lot of people up in arms. Although many disagree with Stokes' suggestion to "throw rocks, bricks and bottles" at neighboring law-enforcement officers who pursue suspects beyond their municipal borders, there is no doubt that such behavior by neighboring law enforcement officers poses a danger to life and property of Jacksonians.
Stokes' comments clearly came from a place of concern for the safety of the city's residents. They were in the same spirit that is causing many people, young and old, to rise up and hold law enforcement accountable for countless incidents of police misconduct against black people. The spirit asserts and demands that black life matters, too, and should not be of second-tier importance.
The seriousness of the issue is being buried beneath the rubble of controversy. The fact that neighboring police departments' actions show a blatant disregard for the safety of residents within Jackson's city limits should be the focus of the discourse. Discussions about endangering law enforcement and what Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey described as "racism against blue" are ancillary.
Stokes' opposition to neighboring law enforcement dangerously pursuing suspects into Jackson is well documented. He has pled with these agencies to stop this reckless practice since his time as a Hinds County supervisor. Since then, these police chases have resulted in injury and damage to property and endangered innocent bystanders.
Most suspects of interest committed misdemeanor offenses of a non-violent nature. As a criminal-defense attorney, it has been my experience that many people who commit such crimes do so to support drug habits or to seek out an economic existence in an economy devastated by decades of white flight and economic strangulation where job opportunities are slim to none. These agencies' dangerous practices send a clear message that property takes precedent over the lives and safety of human beings. Although some neighboring law enforcement officials have adamantly asserted that their actions do not demonstrate racial disregard for a predominantly black city, their responses to Councilman Stokes reveal otherwise.
Neighboring law-enforcement responses were harsh and targeted Jackson as a city. Some police chiefs and sheriffs called for economic sanctions on the city by encouraging those in neighboring law-enforcement agencies to halt patronage of businesses in Jackson, which is already economically embattled and on the financial ropes.
Even more disturbing are Attorney General Jim Hood's and Gov. Phil Bryant's responses to Stokes' remarks. Bryant condemned Stokes' remarks and mischaracterized his comments as "criminal threats." Hood's statement, although less condemnatory, conveyed a similar message. It is telling that both men find it urgent to respond to the comments of a city councilman. But neither Hood nor Bryant has commented on the findings from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that the City of Ridgeland has been engaged in "unlawful discrimination based on race" against black people. No condemnation of how the entrenched school-to-prison pipeline is under-serving and mis-educating Mississippi's children. No comments about how residents of Mississippi are forced to live in poverty a mere stone's throw away from the governor's mansion and Hood's office. No comments about how Mississippi mass incarcerates and warehouses poor people in many instances for profit. Hood has made at least two trips to the United Nations in an attempt to sanitize his and the State of Mississippi's abysmal record in the realm of human rights while making no concrete efforts to improve it.
Given the current climate in the U.S., I cannot advocate for anyone to hurl anything at police officers for the fear that they would be shot down in cold blood. I think Stokes understands this, but his comments stem from a place of frustration with an issue that he has been addressing with civility to no avail. I understand and share his frustration that black life is not being given equal value on par with the lives of others in this state.
The safety and security of Jackson's residents should be given the same priority and respect as residents in neighboring municipalities and counties. The city's residents' lives and property are placed in immediate and imminent danger when officers from a neighboring county or municipality chase any suspect across jurisdictional boundaries. That point should not be lost amidst the controversy surrounding Stokes' comments.
Adofo Minka is a husband, father and criminal defense attorney in Hinds County. He is a member of the National Conference of Black Lawyers and works with Law for Black Lives. He lives in the Cooperative Community of New West Jackson.