Capital city crisis: Factors behind killings, and the greatest hurdles to overcome

Capital city crisis: Factors behind killings, and the greatest hurdles to overcome
The city saw a record-high 128 murders last year, that’s one death almost every other day. (Source: WLBT)

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - While a new year should be about a fresh start, Jackson’s police department is overwhelmed by a plague of killings from 2020 that have infected 2021 with the same vengeance.

It’s unnerving.

The city saw a record-high 128 homicides last year; that’s one death almost every other day.

Less than a month into 2021, a dozen people have been killed in Jackson’s streets.

Here are some of their names:

Zeddrick Washington, 15

Byron Burns, 37

Kiana Singleton, 25

Joshua Fulgham, 24

Regina Bell, 38

August 22, 2020, is the day that shook Nicole Gibson’s world.

Police said a dice game turned deadly.

“It was a shoot-out,” Gibson said. “I knew my baby didn’t make it based off motherly instincts.”

Nicole’s son, Quindarius Gibson was shot several times and later died at a hospital, detectives say.

“We don’t want any more violence. We don’t want any more mothers and fathers and aunts and sisters crying. We do not want that. We want peace,” Gibson pleaded, with tears streaming down her face.

A former athlete at Jim Hill High School, family members say Quindarius was a goofy, bubbly guy, who wanted to join the army.

The city saw a record-high 128 murders last year, that’s one death almost every other day.
The city saw a record-high 128 murders last year, that’s one death almost every other day. (Source: Nicole Gibson)

Now, Nicole and Quindarius’ father, John Knight, have made it their mission to fight the war on crime in the Magnolia State.

“I wake up every day trying to find a way to help the Jackson community and Mississippi,” John Knight, a well-known community activist said.

“It is time for us to put the guns down. We are losing our kids to the streets because of these guns.”

And the Magnolia state has one of the most lenient gun laws, allowing permitless carry.

It means any person who can legally possess a firearm may carry a concealed firearm without a license or permit. Plus, all valid out-of-state weapons permits are recognized by the state, regardless of age.

A 3 On Your Side analysis shows Jackson ranks second in homicides among 20 major U.S. cities, higher than Baltimore, Memphis, and New Orleans, based on last year’s rate.

Here’s more insight into 2020′s homicide investigations, according to police data provided to WLBT through individual cases:

  • 33 percent involved victims in their twenties
  • One in 10 homicide victims last year was a teenager
  • Eighteen of the city’s homicide victims were women, a substantial increase from recent years
  • 33 percent of homicides happened in Precinct 3, which is west of I-55 and north of the Jackson Zoo
  • Precinct 4, which encompasses Northeast Jackson, had the fewest killings at 15 percent

And most deaths stem from some type of conflict by people who may or may not know each other, JPD says, although the department has yet to answer at least a dozen media requests for additional information in this report.

  • Please list the different types of crimes, (in percentages)?
  • What’s most alarming to JPD about the trends?
  • What new, increased efforts are there to tackle the problem?
  • What new, increased efforts are there with outside agencies, lawmakers to tackle the problem?
  • What’s the current starting salary for a JPD policeman?
  • How many JPD police officers do you currently have?
  • How many JPD police officers did you have one year ago?
  • How many JPD investigators do you have, specifically assigned to homicides?
  • How many JPD investigators did you have, specifically assigned to homicides one year ago?

In a special city councilman meeting in January 2021, called by Councilman Aaron Banks, we did learn some information despite the police chief not showing up to the meeting.

“I remember when we were at 525 [officers],” Assistant Chief Joe Wade said.

Wade said JPD currently has 220 officers, but only 198 are actively patrolling the streets - 108 officers left the department in the past two years. He would not say why.

Jackson police are grappling for solutions, now equipping officers with laptops in the field, utilizing its new real-time command center to access business and community surveillance cameras, and implementing new policies.

JPD spokesman, Officer Sam Brown said, “We’ve increased our technology. We have different academy classes... we’re adding new equipment to the department as well to help our officers. Men and women out there do the best they can.”

Here are other crime-fighting efforts by local and state leaders:

Operation Unity - Hinds County Sheriff deputies and the Mississippi Highway Patrol offer extra patrols, administrative checkpoints as part of a partnership with JPD and U.S. Attorney’s Office

Project EJECT - The acronym for Empower Justice Expel Crime Together, reducing violent crime through prosecution, prevention, re-entry, and awareness

Project Safe Neighborhoods - a nationwide initiative that brings together federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and community leaders to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in a community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them

Project Guardian - draws upon JPD’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence, enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing

But is it enough?

Last year’s 128 killings shattered the all-time record from 1995, when 92 were murdered, according to FBI data.

And Senior Circuit Court Judge Tomie Green said these efforts are like bringing a knife to a gunfight, because of the state’s bleeding education and mental health system.

“Mississippi will not spend money to keep people from going to jail and educate them early on,” Green said. “They’d rather spend money to keep people in jail.”

The 22-year judge maintains the Hinds County Circuit Court’s civil and criminal dockets.

Green says the effects of the cycle of crime have played out in her courtroom.

“It goes all the way back to education,” Green explained. “In most cases, there are financial or emotional problems at home or trouble learning. The kid then drops out of school without basic skills or any idea to make an honest living. Before long, crime becomes the alternative to survival.”

And Green says she’s seen many cases where parents keep children with behavioral problems in special needs classes in school in order to get a disability check.

“They’re not challenged in school. They get on drugs to self-medicate and become perpetual criminals because everyone in the community has a gun,” she added. “They feel comfortable carrying weapons and altercations are resolved in our communities by guns and most of that is because of drugs.”

About half of the offenders who appear before Green are on some type of medication, she says, and the senior judge says it’s sickening that, “there’s no place in jails for mental illness.”

file
file (Source: wvir)

A 3 On Your Side report reveals how the mentally ill in Mississippi have been trapped in their minds, waiting years for treatment.

As of January 29, 2021, the Mississippi State Hospital employs 2 psychiatrists and 4 licensed psychologists who are qualified to perform forensic evaluations.

That’s six people statewide who can determine if people charged with a crime are fit to stand trial or understand the charges against them.

The number of individuals on the waitlist for evaluations was reduced from 140 in 2016 to 88 as of December 2020, the state hospital says, but Green says there’s no treatment for mentally ill people behind bars.

The state’s mental health system needs resuscitation.

In 2019, a federal judge took charge of Mississippi’s mental health system, claiming the state isn’t doing enough to help mentally ill people.

“The United States has shown that despite the state’s episodic improvement, it operates a system that unlawfully discriminates against persons with serious mental illness,” U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves said.

The case is still being hammered out in court, but officials say it will take some time, which former U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst says Mississippi doesn’t have.

“Jackson is experiencing a historic epidemic of violence,” Hurst said.

Hurst said city leaders must find a way to enact policies that respect and value police work and pay officers for the dangerous job they do.

“They are working hard, but they are underpaid, understaffed, and undervalued,” Hurst added.

And he said local judges cannot routinely release criminals on bond when they pose a threat to the community.

“I know they do this because we’ve had the FBI and ATF pick them up,” Hurst quipped. “Until you have local judicial leadership that actually puts the community and the safety of the community first, it’s gonna be hard for people to do their job and for people to feel safe.”

Hurst also exclaimed, “the city budgets for 400 police officers, but a study showed JPD needed 600 to do its job! Why not adhere to the study the city paid for?”

Jackson Mayor Choke Antar Lumumba admits the challenges are many, including funding, but says the city is addressing the problem.

“We’re working to correct that,” Lumumba said. “We didn’t get into financial trouble overnight, and it’s gonna take time to get us out of it.”

Lumumba said the city has covered healthcare premiums, initiated small raises, dug into ways to improve the economy, and started a mental health hotline.

But the mayor believes the chief obstacle to solving Jackson’s crime crisis, isn’t tougher gun laws or poverty or even policing, but instead, division among the city, county, and state leaders.

“The less we see ourselves as being on opposite sides of the line, the more we will work with one another,” Lumumba said. “I need collaboration and a spirit of unity with various entities, having a conversation less about the political differences and more about how we support each other.”

It’s what moms like Nicole Gibson undoubtedly need to see to continue her daily plight, of ensuring her son’s death wasn’t in vain.

“It’s been hurtful, deep down inside of me,” Nicole confessed. “The human part of me is telling me to give up. Don’t help anyone else, they took my son from me. But the person I am today will not allow me to quit.”

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