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‘Jackson’s crime problem is a poverty problem’ | Tougaloo professor shares 3 ways to reduce poverty

Jackson, Mississippi
Jackson, Mississippi(WLBT)
Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 2:27 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Johnny Brumfield had no idea Sunday would be the last time he would see his girlfriend smile.

“Your smile, it would light up the room,” Brumfield said about his girlfriend, Alicia Brown.

The 25-year-old mother had entrepreneurial dreams abruptly cut short at Sunday’s Jackson State University homecoming celebration.

As of October 12, this young woman is one of a record number of 121 people killed in Jackson this year.

Residents are scared and tired, relationships are rocky among Jackson’s city council and police departments, and progress is poor.

And one Tougaloo professor says the city’s crime problem is “fundamentally and exclusively a poverty problem.”

“Until the scarcity of financial resources and basic human needs is mitigated and people are given the tools necessary to live lives with dignity, there will always be a degree of criminal activity in these communities as a result,” Julian Miller, Tougaloo College Assistant Professor of Political Science.

Miller is also director of the Reuben V. Anderson Institute for Social Justice. The center is the first of its kind in Mississippi to address the intersection of race, poverty, educational inequity, and economic justice.

Miller says poverty is rooted in “rugged capitalism and worker exploitation that has led to the loss of employment and living wages necessary for people to meet their basic needs.” And the educator says it’s become more expensive over time which has led to poverty and an increase in crime.

“50 years ago, we began to see a significant loss of the manufacturing base, and we see that the poverty it’s created manifests itself as a crime. It’s all cyclical,” Miller explained. “At the same time, our criminal justice system is more punitive instead of rehabilitative,” he added.

20% of Mississippi residents live in poverty, the 2019 census reported. In Jackson, it’s 25%.

According to Reuters, other cities with high poverty rates, like Rochester, New York, are also experiencing an increase in crime.

Miller said Jackson’s latest crime wave is part of a nationwide trend, made worse by the pandemic and the recent number of police killings on African Americans. Nevertheless, the professor said the crisis is not without solutions.

Broad-based universal employment

Miller said Jackson must create collective bargaining opportunities.

“We need the capacity to expand employment to either through what’s called a jobs guarantee, basically, essentially paying people to live in wages to go back to work, or creating this system of worker-owned cooperatives, where people can essentially work and essentially be the owners of that entity and actually get to reap the profit from it, just for themselves and their families.”

Expanding after-school programs

After-school programs must also be universal, the educator says. Miller says studies have shown that young people who are left without supervision are more likely to become pregnant and get involved in violent crimes.

A birds-eye view of Central Mississippi’s school districts shows who’s used federal relief funds to create after-school care programs, and among them is Jackson Public Schools.

Repairing our broken criminal justice system

Miller said our crippled justice system must be reformed.

“If we work hand in hand with the justice and education system in our community, we can have a system that’s rehabilitative to get these kids at this stage, before they become criminally-minded adults,” he said. “We must give them the tools they need to put them on the right track.”

Back in February, Jackson’s city council unveiled a plan to tackle violent crime in the Capital City. Eight months later and the plan has yet to be fully implemented, although Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba did say that an element of the plan includes how the city plans to fight poverty.

Here are several ways the city said it’s currently working toward reducing poverty:

  • We lobbied for legislation that would allow us to set aside uncollectible debt in the instances of error, natural disasters or system failure.
  • We created the water bill assistance program to reduce the risk of sending customers further debt. This program was also partnered with Mississippi Home Corporation and other major utilities so they may have direct access to apply for set aside funding to help pay their bills.
  • Universal Pre-K was created to highlight the love and fundamentals of learning at an early age. It is stated that early love of learning interrupts the cycle of poverty. It was funded by a $1.2M grant through W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
  • Another program we have in place is the Jackson Workforce Leadership Academy which is a product of a partnership with the Aspen Institute and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The program builds on collaborative relationships and the economic well-being of the people we serve. During the Academy, anyone engaged in bi-monthly sessions with both local and national leaders and stakeholders focused on the themes of system thinking, metrics, job quality, policy, and race equity. So the participants are able to be agents of change in their community and organizations.
  • Annually, Jackson hosts, ‘Doing Business with the city and Jobs for Jacksonians Doing Business,’ which provides the avenue for businesses and private contractors to learn about city processes and obtain opportunities. Jobs for Jacksonians are jobs fairs either for city positions or our community partners. Each of these helps those who are looking for work to find it.

Upcoming plans:

  • We have signed on to Mayors for Guaranteed Income, a national partnership with many other cities. Guaranteed income programs often provide supplemental assistance for 12 to 18 months to help lift those up who so desperately need it and have been struggling to reach true economic security. We were hoping to pull funds from the first round of ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] funds to do so but did not have Jackson city council support to do so. It is our goal to continue strategizing how we implement it.
  • We are also looking at how we support those who have been incarcerated or who are homeless.

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