JACKSON In the wake of the murder of Pastor Anthony Longino outside New Bethany Missionary Baptist Church in the Washington Addition and teenager Calphrion Vardman in a Walmart parking lot, both on Sunday, reporters filed into City Hill Monday afternoon to hear a somber City administration pledge to do more to prevent what appears to be a growing epidemic of murders. The capital city had already suffered six homicides so far in 2019 after 81 unjustified homicides last year, a murder number that has not been reached in Jackson since the the crack epidemic in the mid-1990s. (See update after story on conflicting homicide numbers for 2018.)
At the microphone, Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba professed a profound faith in the Jackson Police Department and Police Chief James Davis, the third chief of his tenure since he took office in July 2017. The mayor stressed that the police's job is to apprehend the shooters, which he believes they did.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Project EJECT is a controversial blast from the past.
"I would like to make it clear that in less than a 24-hour period of time that there were persons of interest that were detained, arrested, and charges have been filed in both cases," Lumumba said. This reflects very often what we see with our Jackson Police Department. They are solving crimes at a higher rate than what we see in the rest of the nation."
But good police work to arrest suspects does not stop the violence in the first place, Lumumba stressed, insisting that the public must share the onus for preventing violence before it happens.
"[When] there is a young person who's living in a community that is hungry, that feels like a community does not love them, does not support them, doesn't recognize them ..., it is a lot easier perpetrating harm on someone when you don't feel a (communal) connection," he said in response to a question by the Jackson Free Press.
Coming Soon: 'Real-time Crime Center'
After news of the bookend murders on Sunday broke, Mississippi's Republican governor, Phil Bryant, quickly jumped into the fray with a threat. He tweeted Monday morning: "It is time for our leaders in the Capital City to act. I will join them to stop this violence together or will do so as Governor on my own. This must end."
The biggest news at the press conference Monday was details of a "real-time crime center" for Jackson that the State and the City are planning to work together to create. The mayor said he and the governor have agreed on a $4-million budget to create the facility to help apprehend criminals using facial recognition and other surveillance tools.
Such crime-center programs have been in the works in other major cities across the nation such as New Orleans, New York and St. Louis. This new system will use the latest technology to promote proactive policing. Resources will pay to set up cameras around areas with frequent criminal activity. Armed with facial-recognition software and the ability to identify suspects based on height, weight, gender and clothing, these cameras will feed back to a "video wall" at JPD headquarters, the chief told the Jackson Free Press after the press conference.
When a citizen calls in and submits a description of a suspect, crime-center responders typically filter out surveillance based on appearance and location. Officers in the field will receive GPS coordinates, license plates and photographs of suspects through operating systems in their vehicles. Proponents say all this information will be available within the time frame needed to apprehend a suspect moments after a crime has been committed.
Civil libertarians are leery of such police surveillance, however, from both privacy and efficacy perspectives. Jacob Sullum, a guest columnist at the Washington Times, wrote that "knowing that you are being watched by armed government agents tends to put a damper on things. You don't want to offend them or otherwise call attention to yourself." Still, he explains how the dangers of widespread surveillance may grow over time: "people may learn to be careful about the books and periodicals they read in public, avoiding titles that might alarm unseen observers. They may also put more thought into how they dress, lest they look like terrorists, gang members, druggies or hookers."
How Police Can (and Cannot) Deter Gunfire
But police want the extra intelligence-gathering tools. Having worked with the system for over a year, New Orleans officials say these centers have been able to produce relevant footage in 70 percent of cases submitted. The surveillance screens reduce the burden on individual personnel in a police department, police say, allowing time and resources to be distributed more efficiently.
Chief Davis told the Jackson Free Press that this system can integrate neighborhood associations. Once the system is fully in place, it can loop in neighborhood-watch cameras to keep communities—the ones that have invested in cameras—safe. Davis pointed to the false mass-shooter alarm at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in November 2018 as an example of how useful a crime center could be.
"UMMC was on lockdown, so we were called in blind to deal with a potentially volatile situation," the chief said. "If we had this system, we would have had the surveillance and foreknowledge needed to handle the situation in the most efficient way possible."
'Community Policing,' By Any Other Name
Like the mayor, the police chief emphasized Monday that preventative measures, such as the broadly named and often-misunderstood "community policing," are also a priority of the JPD—but used it as an example of witnesses reacting to a crime that had already occurred.
"Speaking on the homicide of Pastor Longino," Davis said to reporters, "the reason we were able to catch that individual is a direct result of the relationships that the police department is creating within the community."
A citizen who had befriended a JPD officer called in the tip that led to the arrest of Marquez Hamilton, the suspect in Longino's murder. While adequate resources to catch criminals are high priority, Davis said, making sure individuals within the community know and trust law-enforcement personnel is essential to investigating and eventually prosecuting those who choose to do harm.
Still, Jackson officials—and many law-enforcement officials in the U.S.—have often defined "community policing" differently than criminologists. It is supposed to mean having a community-based plan to get officers directly into communities suffering from high crime and violence, often walking the beat, getting to know neighbors and young people long before crimes occur, building trust, even helping citizens with non-crime-related situations. Those officers are to be trained in de-escalation techniques rather than the tendency to stop and frisk based on a hunch or profiling.
That, in turn, does build trust and increase tips in communities that often distrust police due to over-policing, which the Washington Addition has long suffered, residents say.
A full archive of the JFP's "Preventing Violence" series, supported by grants from the Solutions Journalism Network. Photo of Zeakyy Harrington by Imani Khayyam.
Mayor: Don't Forget Gun Control
From the outset of the press conference, Mayor Lumumba showed that his approach is to try to balance increased policing—such as the City's participation in the controversial "Project Eject"—and surveillance with the need to prevent crime before it happens.
"[A]ll of these are efforts that exist after a crime takes place," Lumumba said of the policing strategies he and the chief described. "I say this to you not only as mayor but also as the younger brother of someone shot in the head in Jackson, Mississippi. What the facts reveal is that you cannot simply out-police crime, that we all have to be all hands on deck. ... So long as we merely see it as an issue of policing, we are not giving our very best to the issue."
To that end, Lumumba departed with the conservative governor on a key point of his remarks. It is time, he said, to "have a conversation about gun control if we are serious about this issue." The mayor quickly pointed out that we think twice about giving our youth cars for fear of what they will do on our roads, but not over allowing them access to military-grade firearms. State law, including open-carry provisions, makes it harder to apprehend someone police believe could use their weapon.
In other cities and states with strong gun-control policies, many anti-violence policies are designed to take weapons off potential criminals. Enforcing gun-control laws was the primary goal in New York City under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani when stop-and-frisk policies exploded before a federal judge later ruled them unconstitutional.
"The governor and I did not speak about gun control, nor have we reached some political agreement on it, but I am speaking to it," Lumumba told reporters. "... [W]e shouldn't be arming people we know haven't reached a level of maturity. ... I know we're in the South and very attached to their firearms, but we can do all we can."
'Credible Messengers' Vital to 'Cure Violence'
The mayor also emphasized the need for solutions beyond policing, giving his sister Rukia Lumumba the microphone to talk about the credible messenger/violence interrupter program she announced recently in City Hall. In the anti-violence strategy, modeled on the Cure Violence strategy popular around the country, from New Orleans to Chicago to New York City, former criminals are trained to be the mentors and "messengers" that people likely to get in trouble may listen to, rather than proselytizing from a preacher or finger-pointing from a police officer or other adult.
Cure Violence approaches the threat of violence as a virus that can be halted with the right intervention, including retaliatory shootings within groups, or between those that have beefs with each other, that can multiply into many deaths over time. An effective Cure Violence-type program requires resources, however, because the former criminals are vetted and trained to do the work, and then paid for their time, meaning that they are also job-creation programs in areas that desperately need jobs.
Rukia Lumumba announced that her nonprofit, the People's Advocacy Institute, was getting seed money of $150,000 from FWD.us, an organization funded by technology giants, to train the first two credible messengers, Terun Moore, who is a black, and Benny Ivey, the former leader of the Simon City Royals, a white gang, in Rankin County. Both men served about two decades for their crimes.
"(It is a) better model than just engaging in one form of intervention," Rukia Lumumba said of the Cure Violence approach as an alternative to relying only on policing to respond to violence. "They come in at point where the conflict begins, to mediate that conflict, to look at all the reasons conflict exists." The strategy, she said, "takes into account the expertise and brilliance of community members, those victims of crime ... and those who have committed harm. ... It trains them to be those very people who are out in our community beginning to decrease harm and violence.
"We can look at violence as a disease we have to cure," she added.
But the approach doesn't stop at mediation, the mayor's sister, also an attorney, added. "It goes beyond that. What are root causes of harm being committed in our community? ... Most crimes happening are because of needs, economic needs; social conditioning," she said. "Unfortunately in some of our spaces in Mississippi, not just Jackson, when they get into conflict, people want to pull up guns immediately. ... That's a symptom of us constantly being in fear, constantly thinking we are in harm ... There other ways to mediate and deal with conflict (and) develop culture that doesn't live in fear (and can) appreciate loves and needs of each other."
Editor's Note: The Jackson Free Press had previously reported 84 murders for 2018, but this JPD report indicates 81 unjustified homicides in 2018, as this story states above. Reached after publication, the JPD spokesman, Sgt. Roderick Holmes, said the following: "As for Comstat document you referenced, those numbers reflect the homicides that are reported to and tracked by the FBI utilizing the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. The FBI does not track justifiable homicides nor do they track officer-involved shooting/homicides however, those incidents are included in the numbers that we count internally. So there will always be a discrepancy between the two. Last year’s total was 84, which includes all homicides. There were 3 officer-involved homicides and 3 justifiable homicides in 2018 for a total of 6. The final Comstat report for 2018 should reflect a total of 78, although the raw total would be 84 to include all homicides. If is does not, I am not certain where the discrepancy lies there, but these are the numbers that I am familiar with, according to our Robbery/Homicide Unit." We corrected the earlier story to indicate that there were 84 homicides in 2018, which included at least three cases of self-defense. Because the City of Jackson has not released either the names of officers who shot and/or killed people or the circumstances for those three officer-involved shootings, it is unclear whether they were justifiable. We changed the headline in the earlier story to indicate 84 total homicides.
Taylor Langele is the city news intern for the Jackson Free Press. Write him at [email protected]. Read award-winning solutions journalism on preventing violence in Jackson at jacksonfreepress.com/preventingviolence. Editor-in-chief Donna Ladd contributed to this story.