Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba speaks during a press conference
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba speaks during a press conference on March 08, 2021 in Jackson, Mississippi. Residents in parts of Jackson, Mississippi, where 80% of the residents are Black, have been without running water since mid-February after the city was hit by back-to-back winter storms. The storms damaged the city’s already crumbling infrastructure and left residents without access to running water. A citywide boil notice remains in effect since February 14, when Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves and Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann declared a state of emergency. During a press conference on Friday, Charles Williams, Public Works director in Jackson, stated that only about 5,000 residents do not have water service but thousands are still under a boil water advisory. Credit: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

During the early 1900s, coal miners often carried canaries with them as they went into the depths of the caves and mountains to do their work. The reason? If the canaries began to keel over and die (from invisible, poisonous gasses such as carbon monoxide), the miners knew conditions were too dangerous to stay underground, and that it was time to exit. The canaries served as their warning signal that life-threatening danger was close at hand.

Mississippi is our modern-day canary in this coal mine known as the United States.

Mississippi is where a white super-majority in the heavily gerrymandered state house voted to create a white-appointed court system for the Blackest city in America, Jackson, where Blacks make up 83% of the population. What does this mean? It means that citizens of Jackson, Mississippi are being subjected to an entirely different court system than the rest of the state.

It’s separate, and for damn sure, unequal.

This gerrymandered (i.e. voter suppression-produced) white super-majority in the Mississippi state legislature also created an expanded police force that would be appointed completely by white state house officials.

So, just to make sure you’re keeping up: 1) whitefolk rigged the election system to give themselves political power far beyond their numbers; 2) they used that ill-gotten power to create a white-led court system in nearly all-Black Jackson; 3) this means, bottom line, that the voters of Jackson, which again is 83% Black, have no legal right in Mississippi to elect the judges or prosecutors who will hold sway over their lives; 4) creating a political reality which is unlike what happens in every other part of the entire state.

The white-appointed Capitol Court almost guarantees that some of these fun, historic Mississippi facts will remain in place. What “fun” facts, you ask? The fact that white officials currently hold all four statewide positions that would do the actual appointing of the judges and prosecutors of this Capitol Court. The fact that despite Mississippi having the nation’s largest proportion of Black residents at 38%, no Black official has ever held any of those four positions.

The fact that no Black Mississippian has held any statewide elected office since the brief period of Reconstruction after the Civil War — a Reconstruction which ended in 1877. And the fact that with 38% of Mississippi’s citizens being Black (well over 1/3 of the state), the state has been gerrymandered so severely that there’s only one Black congressman — US Rep. Bennie Thompson (chair of the Jan 6 Committee Hearings).

The Republican that introduced this “aint-this-some-BS” bill (for the separate court system for Jackson; which was approved by Mississippi lawmakers), said his reasoning was because of the high crime and backlog of court cases in Hinds county, the county that contains Jackson.

So, even though Jackson brings in the lion’s share of the states economic and government dollars, like darn nearly every major urban city in every state, Republicans use Jackson as their “go-to” excuse for any problems impacting the state. Even though the state couldn’t survive with the economic engine that Jackson is. And even though many of Jackson’s issues (hello jacked up water system) are most often the result of purposeful underfunding and under-resourcing by — you guessed it — those lily-white Republicans who take Jackson’s money and the money from the federal government that Jackson gets, and they keep it for themselves, Brett Favre-style; MS lawmakers still blame all their state problems on Jackson.

Jackson’s Mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, labeled the bill which is now Mississippi law “colonialist and racist” and that it reminds him of South African apartheid. And for good reason. This special court system and special district in Jackson means that the Black majority will be, by power of law, ruled over by the white minority, while this Mississippi apartheid system is protected and guarded by the police force and judged, which will be hand-picked, by the white legislators.

“This particular law is fraught with constitutional violations, equal protection,” Lumumba said during a recent appearance on MSNBC’s “The ReidOut with Joy Ann Reid.” “It is seeking to create a district which is the most densely white populated area in the city of Jackson, in addition to a militarized (police) force that does not have direct accountability to the residents. Within the district that already exists there have been numerous claims of issues of police misconduct that are not being challenged, that are not being followed up on. So, there’s a multitude of concerns here”

Again, if that sounds like 1980-era apartheid Pretoria, South Africa, that’s because it’s the same set-up. It’s the same game plan. Secure political power by any means necessary. Pack the judiciary with apartheid-loving judges. Pay for a militarized police force that is incentivized to protect the unfair, unequal and unjust system because their salary, raises, careers and way of life depend upon its maintenance.

Oh yeah, another Mississippi fun fact: In 1890, Mississippi, the Magnolia State (also the poorest of all 50 states), enacted a racist constitution to strip African Americans of any rights they had gained during Reconstruction; rights Blacks used to vote like crazy and elect folk at the local and state level who looked like them and had Blackfolk’s interests at heart. Just one generation removed from enslavement proper, these sisters and brothers were changing their reality via the power of the vote. And then changes in the state Constitution ended all of that.

And I’ll be damned if Mississippi ain’t doing the same thing right now — in a state with the highest percentage of Black residents.

Lumumba explained this madness further, and shared the reasoning given by the white officials for stealing Black voting power and Black voices — in a supposed democracy.

“Along with that history was a narrative that said that it was in Black people’s interest not to be ‘burdened’ with the heavy weight of having to select electoral leadership, much in the same way that they created this district that they set to appoint,” Lumumba summarized.

So, you see, just like those whites who defended the institution of slavery, these modern-day Mississippi overseers used the same logic—“We just want what’s best for our ni**ers. That’s all.”

But they didn’t stop there. They then took the “caucasity” up a notch.

Lumumba said the state legislator who introduced this legislation suggested that the reason he thought these judges tasked with ruling over Jackson should be appointed rather than elected by Black Jackson residents is because the white lawmakers who gerrymandered the state’s districts to steal political power away from Blacks really just wanted “the best of the best,” which is to suggest that Jackson residents aren’t smart or savvy enough to choose their own representatives.

And all this in the same state where Lowndes County exists; the county that was on the front lines fighting to win Black people the right to vote during the 1960s (and the same county that gave us that Black Panther image later adopted by Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and crew out in Oakland, CA).

So, what does all this have to do with canaries in a coal mine?

Mississippi (or more specifically, Jackson) is the canary. It’s the warning to Blackfolk (and any other folk who give a damn about justice, equality, democracy, etc.). Why? Because Jackson is a microcosm of America and has become demographically what America is fast becoming — a place where whites are in the minority. And the Mississippi apartheid lawmakers are laying out the playbook, the gameplan, the SOP (standard operating procedure) for how the entire majority Black/Brown nation can remain under minority white rule. It’s enough to make Nina Simone scream, “Mississippi Goddamn!”

We’ve already seen moves in that direction. The overturning of the teeth of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 via the Shelby Co. vs. Holder decision. The Jan. 6 insurrection to discount, throw out and/or totally ignore Black votes that swung four key states to Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Voter ID laws to protect against the almost nonexistent voter fraud and thereby minimize Black votes. State GOP pushback against programs that increase voter turnout — Souls to the Polls, mail-in ballots, 24-hr voting, drive-thru voting, etc.

We’ve seen this white nationalist snowball growing steadily into an avalanche of oppression. The Jackson apartheid court system is but an early example of what GOP members seek to be a growing trend that eventually becomes the norm.

And these insidious minions believe that if they can steal Blackfolk’s political power in broad daylight, in the Blackest city in the Blackest state in the nation, and get away with it, they can do it anywhere, any time.

The canary is keeling over. And Blackfolk, we better act fast. Because our ability to fight back will be insanely diminished under an apartheid system. Hell, it took an entire global movement of multiple decades to semi-end apartheid in South Africa. And that was only because Blackfolk forced the US to stand against it. But what happens when it’s the US that’s the biggest apartheid bully on the block?

Mississippi Goddamn!

Aswad Walker

I'm originally from Cincinnati. I'm a husband and father to six children. I'm an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston...