3 On Your Side Investigates: Source of Violence

Published: Dec. 30, 2021 at 6:27 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Not only will 2021 be remembered as Jackson’s deadliest, it’s also the year the Capital City’s rate of killings eclipsed every other major city in the U.S, according to a 3 On Your Side analysis of the most recently published data.

That surge in homicides also contributed to a 17 percent increase in violent crime in Jackson over last year as of late November, overshadowing a double-digit drop in property crimes, according to data released by the city.

“86% of all homicides are interpersonal relationships, where we have people knowing each other,” Jackson Police Chief James Davis said during a commencement ceremony on December 13.

Homicides by year - Jackson, Miss.
Homicides by year - Jackson, Miss.(WLBT)

How many of these killings could be gang-related?

That’s a tougher question to answer.

This year alone, investigators believe at least 7 killings could have been tied to gang activity, homicides linked to 17-year-old Joseph Brown and his crew.

JPD arrested Brown and four others earlier this month.

At the same time, residents still don’t know how much of a tangible threat gangs could pose to them because the administration -- including Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba -- haven’t disclosed specific information about that.

When asked by council members in February about gang membership and the number of specific gangs in Jackson, Davis did not release that information, citing “investigative concerns.”

He did, however, tell the city’s law enforcement ad-hoc committee that the city had a gang problem and his department has a six-officer gang unit to help with these investigations.

3 On Your Side discovered more details about the prevalence of gang activity in Jackson from a grant application submitted two years ago, drafted by city leaders with information that had not been disclosed publicly, either.

The document, drafted in 2019, aimed to target gangs through prevention and prosecution efforts.

To do that, city officials had to define the issue, saying “street gangs are a significant part of the crime problem in Jackson” and these gangs are “actively involved in drug distribution, weapons and a wide range of violent activity.”

The city said the Drug Enforcement Administration identified more than 250 confirmed, senior-level gang members in the Jackson area alone.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more,” said Hinds County Sheriff Tyree Jones. “It just goes to show that the presence of gangs is here. Is it going anywhere? No.”

Even so, gang affiliations aren’t what they once were twenty years ago, he said.

“You don’t have a bunch of guys going out with blue and black, or red and black, committing crimes and saying this is a black Gangster Disciple crime, this is a Vice Lord crime. That’s not the way that it goes. Because just like I said, you have rival gangs, in particular times right now that are going out, committing crimes together. And that’s only to get money and to make a profit,” Jones said.

Jones said inmates incarcerated within the Raymond Detention Center are asked for their gang affiliation, and most give that information to deputies for good reason.

“Then we’re not in a position to put them where their personal well being can’t be compromised due to rival gangs, or rival activity within the facility,” Jones added.

The city’s application said at least 1,200 people in the Jackson area are believed to have some degree of gang affiliation.

The most prevalent ones here are the Black Gangster Disciples and Vice Lords, according to the application.

It also outlined details of an anti-gang initiative that would identify and reach out to hundreds of at-risk children before gang members could, targeting the worst gang leaders in the city, and eliminating witness intimidation from cases brought by the Hinds County District Attorney, something particularly troubling for Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director Colonel Steven Maxwell.

“That tells you that there’s a degree of difficulty in prosecuting individuals involved in these crimes who are gang members, and and that is prima facia, and leaders in the city know it,” Maxwell said.

Since he’s been in office, Lumumba has consistently downplayed the prevalence of gang-related activity, saying on more than one occasion that it’s not the biggest factor behind violent crime.

“I’m not saying that we don’t have some level of gang activity in the City of Jackson,” Lumumba told WLBT on July 17, 2019. “I would just say that that is anecdotal to me right now and I don’t have the data to support that.”

Two weeks later, Lumumba did have the data supporting the significance of gang activity in Jackson, supplying it to get money from the federal government for JPD.

Perhaps Lumumba didn’t know about the information when he talked to WLBT a few weeks earlier.

However, he also did it again, several months later, in response to comments made by then-Gov. Phil Bryant.

“Gangs not only take lives within correctional facilities but on the streets of Jackson,” Bryant said during a January 6, 2020, press conference.

Lumumba responded four days later.

“When people say, well, there’s gang activity in the prisons, and there’s gang activity on the streets of Jackson with no information to support it...It shows me a number of things. I don’t think that those type of sound bites are productive to that overall goal,” Lumumba said. “Instead, try calling the mayor and saying, ‘Well, Mayor, I think that we might have a gang problem,’ right. And once you say that, then we can dive into what the cases indicate. But when you’ve decided to hold a press conference, with no evidence to support it, and just share what’s on your mind, right, then that doesn’t help us.”

Two months later, the federal government approved the city of Jackson’s grant, sending more than $70,000 to the city’s police department.

Then-U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst congratulated the city on Twitter, saying the money would combat gangs and violent crime, even quoting the city’s application underscoring how much gang activity contributes to the city’s crime picture.

That same day, in an interview with the Jackson Free Press, Lumumba questioned where that quote came from, even though he approved it – and the application -- months earlier.

The mayor told WLBT his remarks are not examples of mixed messaging and he stands by every comment he’s ever made on the issue.

“I’ve never said or indicated that we don’t have the presence of gangs in Jackson; what I said is that the information that was provided is that the prevailing or most prevalent cause of murders within our city, were not necessarily gang associated. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any murders that are related to that. It doesn’t mean that it’s not a threat that we want to eliminate within our community,” Lumumba said on December 20.

3 On Your Side then asked why Lumumba told the press there was no information to support gang activity on the streets of Jackson shortly after Bryant’s statements in 2020.

“What you were referring to, is at the time, where the comments, addressing all of the problems that were taking place at Parchman was deflected to say, well, the prisons have gangs. So does Jackson, right. And so Jackson often becomes that punching bag that, that when we don’t want to directly deal with something, we find a way to do our, our signal calling. Just say ‘let’s mention Jackson, and you’ll be able to avoid the pressure on this issue.’”

Lumumba told the Jackson Free Press last March the purpose of the grant was “equipment for the police department, that’s all this is.”

The city’s application indicates the anti-gang initiative outlined more than that, such as targeting 250 at-risk children and mentoring them through other grants that would be used to hire personnel, including a juvenile outreach coordinator.

3 On Your Side reached out to JPD to find out how successful that initiative has been, since its first mention nearly two years ago.

Neither spokesperson Sam Brown nor the project director and grant writer for JPD, Juan Gray, responded.

Instead of providing any answers, Chief Davis’ assistant Gilda Coleman said we should submit public records requests to the city to request that information.

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