Wednesday, January 10, 2018
"Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency ask the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But, conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right." — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaches, I am reminded of his timeless speech, "Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam." King understood that at a certain point, silence becomes betrayal. Nearly 50 years later, too many individuals are still unwilling to break away from the shackles of political expediency, personal allegiances and popular opinion. Only a few brave men and women oppose the status quo.
Unfortunately, this political timidity is not relegated to the halls of Congress or the Mississippi Legislature. It is present in today's Jackson municipal government on Project Empowering Jackson Eliminating Crime Together (EJECT).
On Dec. 7, 2017, U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst announced Project EJECT. Hurst made an open declaration that his office would unconstitutionally use the denial of bond as a punitive measure and refuse to entertain plea negotiations in cases where individuals are merely accused of certain crimes. And if jettisoning the constitutional bedrock principle of presumption of innocence was not bad enough, Hurst promised to "eject" individuals convicted of certain crimes out of Jackson to serve federal mandatory sentences in other states away from family and friends, effectively denying the offenders the type of support research shows can reduce recidivism and aid in rehabilitation.
It has been five weeks since Hurst announced this sinister law-and-order initiative aimed at criminalizing, victimizing and ethnically cleansing poor black people from Jackson while using violence and crime reduction as a way to cover its nefarious intent. The Lumumba administration's silence has been deafening and disappointing to say the least. Even when engaged with criticisms of Project EJECT, Lumumba would not state clearly where his administration stands on the initiative. What is clear is that for the project to move forward, local law enforcements agencies, including the Jackson Police Department, must participate for the program to have any teeth.
Will the JPD play an active role in Project EJECT? This seems to be a simple question that the Lumumba administration is unwilling or unable to answer.
It is clear that an initiative like Project EJECT is irreconcilable with a desire for Jackson to be "the most radical city on the planet." Mayor Lumumba's silence cannot be reconciled with his advancement of the idea of "human rights for human beings."
You cannot remain neutral on a moving train. Project EJECT is set to leave the station. Will the Lumumba administration hop on board, or will it stand in opposition to this initiative that emanates from the office of U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Sessions? Time will tell.
This is a critical question and crucial test for the Lumumba administration because history shows that although these types of militaristic tough-on-crime initiatives claim to only target the "criminal element," many times entire communities are criminalized and occupied. This increases the likelihood of potentially violent confrontations with law enforcement and the possibility that many innocent people will be pulled into Project EJECT's dragnet.
Lumumba has professed a commitment to holistic solutions to crime. It is my hope that his administration can find the political courage and will to push back against an initiative that is not holistic in scope, or a solution to crime and violence.
If the Lumumba administration does not take a stance on Project EJECT, it is imperative that all people of conscience raise their voices in opposition. This will not be an easy task in a climate where people accuse those who speak out against such initiatives of making excuses for violence and criminality.
Following King's example on the Vietnam War, we must speak out against Project EJECT and organize to take effective political action against it and those who support it. I don't want anyone to be victimized by crime or violence. However, I also don't want poor black communities to be victimized and criminalized any further.