Opinion: Republicans’ final race around black Mississippians is being copied in other states
Editor’s note: Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, has resided in Jackson, Mississippi, for nearly 30 years. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.
Headlines this week trumpeted the infuriating news that the state of Texas is planning to take over the Houston Independent School District, one of the largest and most diverse school populations in the nation, where 90% of pupils are black and brown.
Austin state education officials plan to appoint a new board to manage schools in the district, usurping authority from local authorities. The move is apparently intended to address academic backlog in a school district that has seen a substantial drop in the number of failing schools in recent years.
Takeover is a playbook all too familiar to residents of my home town of Jackson — Mississippi’s majority black capital — which has struggled for years against hostile takeover of aspects of its local governance. .
The racist undertones of what is happening — in Jackson, Houston and elsewhere around the country — are undeniable and unacceptable. White leaders in Mississippi — in a state with the highest percentage of black citizens in the nation — are doing everything they can to ensure its black population remains second-class citizens.
Last month, the Mississippi House restored racist precedent from a seemingly bygone era with the passage of HB 1020. The intent behind this legislation was to create a separate, unelected judiciary and expand the forces of police to people who live in Jackson.
Republicans’ overwhelming majorities in the Mississippi state legislature give them the opportunity to push through racist legislation that Democrats — who represent a majority of black Mississippians — have no recourse against. This is the opposite of what democracy is supposed to be.
Water is another weapon that has been used against blacks in Mississippi. For decades, residents of the capital Jackson, where 83% of the population is black, have struggled with a contaminated water supply that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says could become a ground fertile for E. coli and other pathogens.
The problem escalated further in February 2021, when late winter storms damaged the city’s aging and deteriorating water system, leaving much of the city under a boil water alert. ‘water. Some residents found themselves without running water.
But the problem is both systemic and institutional: for years, the state has underinvested in Jackson’s basic water supply infrastructure, turning a blind eye to the failings of the water supply system and the high levels of toxins such as lead, failing to provide even the basic maintenance of the infrastructure that black parents rely on to bathe their babies and operated by majority black schools for their water fountains.
The reaction from our state leaders, including Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, has been to blame the victim, pointing the finger at Jackson for the alleged mismanagement of a water system that state officials n never funded enough.
Eventually, in late 2022, the EPA stepped in, launching an investigation into Mississippi’s discriminatory water practices. But the state’s white leaders have once again obstructed efforts to improve the lives of its black citizens. The state Senate last month passed a law – SB 2889 – placing Jackson’s water under state control and siphoning off millions of dollars in new federal funding to help fix the failing infrastructure of the state. ‘water. Once again, the Republican-led white state government has gone out of its way to try to dispossess Jackson’s black residents.
And now, with the passage of this legislation imposing decision-making power on majority black Republicans from Jackson to the Mississippi House of Representatives, a clear message has been sent: the principle of self-government on which our democracy was built does not apply to blacks.
The Biden administration can take steps to reverse this brazen, high-handed action and can send the message that it will protect democratic governance for people of color who reside in states where they are not part of the political majority.
To do so, however, he must set a new precedent for federal surveillance of states that systematically exercise state power to violate civil rights. Through the enforcement of civil rights and federal non-discrimination laws as a condition of distributing federal aid to Mississippi, the Biden administration must continue its work to restore Jackson’s integrity.
And he must be equally aggressive in ending abuse in other states — such as Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Oklahoma — that have also taken various steps to control communities of color.
Congress also has a role to play. It subsidizes states like Mississippi considerably. In my home state and elsewhere, Congress and the President should leverage the upcoming budget debate as a way to strengthen state civil rights laws as a requirement for states to access federal programs.
For every dollar Mississippi pays in federal taxes, it receives $2.53 in federal aid, making it the third most federally dependent state. This gives the US government massive leverage over state government. Yet the funneling of federal infrastructure funds and other resources to states that actively seek to fund the basic needs of black and brown communities and minimize their political power is criminal.
Racism is deeply ingrained in the fabric of Mississippi culture. When you try to disrupt it, you encounter resistance. One step forward is not progress, because it will always be accompanied by three, four, five or more steps back. Sadly, this is also the case in other southern states that seem to be adopting Mississippi’s despicable playbook.
The Biden administration can no longer subsidize policy makers, like Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, and our state legislators, because they adopt clearly racist policies.
State actions to suppress the rights of communities of color must not be tolerated in my state, or anywhere else. The federal government must continue to take aggressive action when a state’s white leaders oppose improving the lives of their most vulnerable citizens.