JACKSON This story is updated with news that George Robinson's death has been ruled a homicide following an autopsy showing blunt-force trauma to his head.
It was a cloudy Sunday when Pastor Anthony Longino reached for his keys to open the doors of New Bethany Missionary Church on Hill Avenue for service on the morning of Jan. 13. On this day, though, the minister did not get beyond the concrete step before 22-year-old Marques Hamilton allegedly pulled a firearm, shot Longino in his head and took his truck.
Later the same day on Jones Street, one street over from New Bethany, neighbors looked out their windows to see a mass of police officers ranging from K9 units to armored humvees searching for suspects in a comprehensive sweep of the Washington Addition.
A young woman went outside and began a recording for Facebook Live. "Heard that a man was killed around the street from me, a pastor, he was opening up his church and somebody shot him in the face and robbed him and took his truck," she said while recording, "and now they umm lookin'. They have one guy, but they lookin' for another one.
How Police Can (and Cannot) Deter Gunfire
"They say they gone terrorize Jackson until they find'm because it was wrong how they did that man. They not playin so if you don't want to get beat up, go to jail or harassed, the best thing for you to do is stay in the house cause it's too cold anyway," she continued.
During a traffic stop on Jones Street, police charged 62-year-old George Robinson with a misdemeanor for failure to obey a police office and resisting arrest, but police have not provided names of any officers involved. During the altercation, witnesses say that police slammed Robinson to the ground and perhaps hit him in the head with a flashlight. JPD spokesman Sgt. Roderick Holmes told the Jackson Free Press that his misdemeanor was for failure to obey a police officer and resisting arrest.
George Robinson then died at the University of Mississippi Medical Center two days later, on Tuesday. The day after this story went to press, the City announced that Robinson's death was ruled a homicide, and the autopsy report showed blunt-force trauma to his head, lending credence to witness comments.
The mayor sent out a cryptic press release late the day after Robinson's death, without naming him, saying, "we believe that the circumstances are serious enough to warrant a thorough investigation." Soon afterward, JPD Chief James Davis held a follow-up press conference to address the rumor.
"We started our own investigation," Davis said, then confirming that the stop happened while police looked for the killers of Longino in the Washington Addition Sunday morning.
The latest report from the City came a week later. "The investigation into the death of George Robinson is still underway. At this time, the City of Jackson is still awaiting the results of the autopsy report. We will communicate the progress of this investigation once more information becomes available," the short press statement from the mayor's office said.
Robinson's death was the 11th of 2019 as of Jan. 18, a rough start for the year.
Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba, who is in Washington, D.C., this week and not available for comment, sent this statement about Robinson's homicide on Jan. 23:
"Following the Hinds County Coroner’s report, the officers involved in the arrest of Mr. George Robinson were immediately placed on administrative leave. This follows an ongoing investigation initiated by the City of Jackson in response to allegations made by community members present during Mr. Robinson’s arrest. The results of the investigation concerning Mr. Robinson’s death will be presented before a Hinds County grand jury. In the full spirit of transparency, the administration will continue to be communicative with the public throughout this process and we ask the citizens of Jackson to hold the family of Mr. George Robinson in their prayers.”
'Go Get 'Em Policing
The latest murders in Jackson mean that the capital city could be on track for more homicides than in 2018, which was the highest on record since late in the crack era in the 1990s. With citizens nervous and pushing the City of Jackson for a plan, Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba's administration released a bullet-point report on Friday, Jan. 18 and explained the three-part approach to crime reduction at a special city-council meeting.
The plan's first step is comprehensive policing reform. The big-ticket item is the Real Time Crime Center budgeted at around $4 million, with State help. Resources would pay for cameras around areas with frequently criminal activity. Armed with facial-recognition software and the ability to identify suspects based on height, weight, gender and clothing, these cameras will give officers the ability to find and apprehend suspects moments after a crime has been reported.
Chief James Davis explained the program at a special city council session. "(JPD is) putting cameras all over the city of Jackson where we can monitor activities throughout our community.... If we see anything that is strange or criminal activity, we can direct police resources to those locations, so hopefully we can disrupt crime or stop it from happening," he said. It is a strategy that also draws complaints about violation of privacy and profiling of "bad" neighborhoods.
Additionally, JPD is launching a body-camera system for police officers to try to curb the public's distrust. Police officers will receive special training centered around walking the beat in heavily policed areas in order to form positive relationships with the communities in question. Chief Davis emphasized at the special council session the importance of positive police interaction with the community outside the parameters of a criminal investigation.
However, body cameras are controversial in their own right—officers often turn them off, for instance, and they can have a disparate effect in communities of color such as in Jackson.
Former JPD officer Juan Cloy, who is now running for the Hinds County sheriff's job, told the Jackson Free Press that a "measured task force" is the most effective measure for short-term policing. Instead of reactionary policing—such as the sweeps of Washington Addition that may have resulted in the death of George Robinson—Cloy recommended building a proactive force with appropriate briefing, training and purpose to replace "go get'm" tactics.
"When you have this huge amount of violence and people don't feel safe, that has to be the first priority," said Cloy in response to a question regarding Robinson's alleged assault. "I know how it gets when emotions are high, but that is why a special task force is necessary in high-crime areas."
Subsequently, the City of Jackson and a nonprofit run by the mayor's sister are seeking sufficient funding for a new credible-messengers program. In that violence-prevention strategy, modeled on the Cure Violence approach popular in cities around the country, former criminals are trained to be the mentors and "messengers" who may better reach people likely to get in trouble and commit violence.
Chief Davis admitted the difficulty of policing interpersonal conflict. "Some of these homicides are difficult to police because people are into it with each other, and they are taking the law into their own hands," Davis told council, "and they are carrying it out by shooting each other to resolve the issues."
Cure Violence approaches treat violence as a virus that can be halted with the right intervention, including retaliatory shootings within groups, or between those beefing with each other, that can multiply into many shootings. An effective credible-messenger program requires resources, because the former criminals are vetted and trained to do the work, and then paid, which also creates jobs for the formerly incarcerated.
Rukia Lumumba recently 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 and Benny Ivey.
"(It is a) better model than just engaging in one form of intervention," she said of the credible-messenger alternative to just policing. "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.
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.
Food, Jobs, Opportunity
However, the city recognizes that making people aware of a disease does not necessarily lead to a cure. The City is targeting hunger and access to education as the most problematic symptoms in underserved communities. Jackson officials say that "Access Centers" are on the way to serve the underdeveloped neighborhoods. Similar programs exist across the country and usually center on helping those with disabilities obtain and maintain gainful employment.
The "Jackson Meals Matter" initiative received a $120,000 grant in September 2018 to help fight hunger in the city. A study by the Food Research and Action Center revealed only about 8 percent of Mississippi children fed through the National School Lunch Program are also signed up for their school's summer-lunch program. Twenty-five percent of Hinds County is food insecure, according to Feeding America, compared to the 13-percent average for the U.S.
In addition to providing more meals through JPS, the campaign will create an online directory for food options in the city. The City's Department of Human and Cultural Services and the Department of Parks and Recreation will lead the effort.
The City also is focused on providing universal pre-kindergarten to all children growing up in Jackson, and looking to create STEAM centers that can connect high-school seniors with employers and the vocational training needed to move from school to productive employment.
"(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" Mayor Lumumba stated at a press briefing on in response to a Jackson Free Press question on Jan. 15.
CORRECTION: George Robinson was 62 when he died, not 61 as previously reported.
Email city reporting intern at [email protected]. Editor Donna Ladd also contributed to this story. Also read jacksonfreepress.com/preventingviolence.