Wednesday, April 18, 2018
In the "most radical city on the planet," the "emperor" has no clothes. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has repeatedly provided cover for the Jackson Police Department, which has consistently exacted violence on residents. He allows JPD to operate with impunity in the face of calls from community members to hold officers accountable for their actions.
In his latest attempt to provide a smoke screen for violent cops, Lumumba has created a task force through executive order to deliberate over the question of whether the City should release the names of police officers involved in acts of violence against civilians. The task force is comprised of government bureaucrats, police officers, Lumumba family members and professionals who will likely never have the types of experiences that poor and working-class black people have with JPD.
His campaign slogan, "when I become mayor, you become mayor," speaks to a governing process that allows residents to have democratic control over the decisions that impact their lives. However, the task force's creation is mayor-centered and does not represent direct democracy.
At the first meeting on April 11, it was evident from the start that JPD would dominate it. Officers who were not a part of the task force spoke at will. However, community members were told they would not be allowed to address the task force.
Eventually, after residents pressed them about the undemocratic nature of the process, members relented and voted to offer residents 10 minutes to speak toward the end of each meeting. The task force also adopted the suggestion of a non-member officer to host the second meeting at JPD training headquarters. Apparently, no one on the task force thought it would be problematic to invite residents to a meeting space that the department controls to discuss matters critical of JPD.
Mayor Lumumba has said that the task force represents the will and voice of the people. During the second meeting, this well-dressed lie was exposed. Previously, the mayor said that he established the task force because certain community members did not want him to release the identities of officers. Task-force appointee and Lumumba administration Chief of Staff Safiyah Omari revealed that the committee came about as a result of a compromise between Lumumba and JPD.
He could have issued an executive order mandating the names of officers involved in violence against civilians be released without the smoke screen of a task force. However, he won't because it is not politically expedient for him to do so. When task-force members discussed expanding the scope of the committee, Omari told them that they would have to get the approval of the mayor because his executive order would not allow them to do that. But if we are all "co-mayors," shouldn't the people be able to decide the scope and direction of the task force?
Lumumba and his political allies say that "the people" must decide. Who are the people? How do "the people" decide? It appears that his desire to follow the will of the people has been relegated to the realm of theory. His practice is to appoint individuals who are loyal to his political interests. This is the type of nepotism and cronyism that breeds political corruption and opportunism.
This is the status quo. This is not the "radical" change that he promised to the residents of Jackson. The task force is a farce and cruel jest in the face of very serious calls for the imposition of transparency and accountability on a murderous and violent police state.
Adofo Minka is a defense attorney and founder of the America Means Prison Initiative. Follow his commentary at adofom1.tumblr.com.