There’s been a lot of finger-pointing regarding who’s responsible for the egregious, years-long water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, that came to a head last year. However, that’s not helping the predominately Black residents who still live daily without clean, running water.
Now city lawmakers are debating proposed House Bill 370, which would permit recall elections for local leaders if 30 percent of Jackson’s registered voters signed a petition asking for one. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Shanda Yates, who represents District 64 of the city.
Yates is a Democrat-turned-Independent who says allowing elections to recall city officials will lead to accountability.
However, other lawmakers believe the proposal is aimed at making it possible to remove Jackson’s Democrat Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who’s been embroiled in a heated battle with Republican state officials over the status of his city.
Some also believe it is racially motivated because Lumumba is Black and Yates is white.
“It’s no point in us pretending we don’t know that just about everybody in this city who is white would … sign a petition and say, ‘We want to get rid of that mayor,’” Democratic Rep. Robert Johnson said, according to a report by U.S. News.
Johnson also said all the officials complaining about Lumumba were white. Yates challenged his theory.
“I don’t think so. We haven’t had 30% of the people in Jackson vote in a mayoral election, maybe ever. So I don’t know that we could get 30% of anybody to sign anything,” Yates said.
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“This is about the African American mayor of Jackson who has taken on the governor of this state, and we’re going to let the governor appoint a three-judge panel and come in here and have 30%, a minority of the population, sign a petition to say, ‘We need to have an election to see if you need to go,’” Johnson retorted.
Debate on the proposal comes nearly a month after a high-ranking official from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality sent a letter refuting allegations from the NAACP in a discrimination complaint that the neglect of Jackson’s water infrastructure over the years was due to racism and discrimination.
“Jackson received a loan for every completed application it submitted,” Wells wrote. “And, because the amount of the loan is based on the cost of the project, no loans were reduced for any reason that could be considered discriminatory.”
In August 2022, massive rain and flooding exacerbated problems at a main water treatment plant, leading to unsafe drinking water. Lumuba issued evacuation orders.
In November 2022, the Department Of Justice filed a complaint against the city for failing “to provide drinking water that is reliably compliant with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to the system’s customers,” according to a press release. The DOJ acted on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“Today, the Justice Department is taking action in federal court to address long-standing failures in the city of Jackson’s public drinking water system,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The Department of Justice takes seriously its responsibility to keep the American people safe and to protect their civil rights. Together with our partners at EPA, we will continue to seek justice for the residents of Jackson, Mississippi. And we will continue to prioritize cases in the communities most burdened by environmental harm.”
The DOJ also appointed a third-party water system administrator to help resolve the issue and the Biden Administration allocated $600 million in funding to address the water crisis in December.
“Today, we can finally say that after decades of kicking the can of crumbling infrastructure down the road, the stars have aligned for Jackson,” Lumumba said. “At this moment in time, we have secured the expertise and the funding needed to start repairing, replacing and modernizing Jackson’s water system.”
PHOTO: Former NBA basketball player Erick Dampier, joins other volunteers in carrying cases of water to Jackson, Miss., residents during a drive-thru water distribution, Sept. 7, 2022. A boil-water advisory has been lifted for Mississippi’s capital, and the state will stop handing out free bottled water on Saturday. But the crisis isn’t over. Water pressure still hasn’t been fully restored in Jackson, and some residents say their tap water still comes out looking dirty and smelling like sewage. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)