Jackson, MS once again ignoring Constitution in the name of fighting crime

(Tina Brooks/The Jacksonville Daily News via AP, File)

There’s no disputing the fact that Jackson, Mississippi has more than its fair share of violent crime for a city its size, but that doesn’t mean that the city’s leaders can completely disregard the Constitution or the rights of residents simply by proclaiming that it’s a necessary evil (or worse yet, a positive good) to do so.

And yet, for at least the second time in two years, Jackson is getting sued in federal court over one of its crime-fighting initiatives; in this case the city’s “Ticket, Arrest, and Tow” anti-crime checkpoints that are being used to stop-and-search citizens without any evidence or suspicion that a crime has been committed.

“In his capacity as a food delivery driver, Mr. Skiffer does not feel he can afford to regularly encounter JPD’s TAT roadblocks,” says the complaint, which was filed by the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ). “When he learned of the practice through the press, he prepared to drive alternate routes or out of his way to avoid them. He has been using an app to monitor roadblock placement since TAT launched, and while driving in majority-Black and low income neighborhoods in Jackson, he has intentionally altered his route to avoid encountering multiple reported JPD checkpoints. He has seen the checkpoints as they were being set up. He has made food deliveries to people in these neighborhoods who have told him they would be driving themselves to get food for their families, but they do not want to sit at roadblocks.”

The MCJ is seeking an injunction on behalf of Skiffer and other drivers who have likewise had to either put up with the indignity and delay caused by Jackson’s suspicionless stops or go out of their way to avoid them. During the stops, police demand that drivers produce their licenses and proof of insurance. They ticket drivers who lack those documents and tow their cars. If police discover that people have outstanding warrants or are illegally carrying firearms, they make arrests. The lawsuit, which the MCJ wants the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi to certify as a class action, argues that the checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

As Reason’s Jacob Sullom notes, the Supreme Court has explicitly stated in a case called Indianapolis v. Edmond that “stops justified only by the generalized and ever-present possibility that interrogation and inspection may reveal that any given motorist has committed some crime” do indeed violate the Fourth Amendment, but that’s hasn’t stopped Jackson police from making more than 100 felony arrests since the checkpoints began in January.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba has described these checkpoints as a useful tool for law enforcement, but then, he’s also the guy who tried to use an emergency proclamation to make open carry a crime in the city back in 2020, which led to a federal lawsuit that resulted in the mayor rescinding his unconstitutional declaration not long after.

Attorneys for the mayor and the Jackson City Council on Friday agreed to the terms of a consent decree to never attempt to restrict open carry again. A consent decree is an agreement between two parties issued by a judge instead of continuing the case in court.

Under the decree, the city cannot take any action “that would directly or indirectly prohibit, restrict, or inhibit the open carry of firearms in the city” unless Mississippi’s statutes and constitutional law are first changed to allow for that, according to court records.

“I am very glad to know that this will never happen again in the future. Mississippians should be able to protect themselves no matter what city they are in,” said Criswell in a news release.

Lumumba promised to never again try to restrict the open carrying of firearms, but that consent decree didn’t say anything at all about ignoring the Fourth Amendment rights of residents, so I guess we’ll have to wait for this new lawsuit to run its course before Jacksonians can drive to the store without having to worry about showing their papers at illegal and unconstitutional checkpoints.

I’d strongly encourage those residents to vote Lumumba out of office, but given the fact that he was re-elected just last year, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. Who knows where the mayor’s unconstitutional adventures will take him next, but if I lived in Jackson I’d be putting an extra deadbolt on my door in case Lumumba decides to start quartering police officers in people’s homes as a crime deterrent. He’s already tread all over the Second and Fourth Amendment rights of Jacksonians, so I wouldn’t put it past him to abuse their Third Amendment rights in the name of fighting crime as well.