The JFP Interview with Chokwe Lumumba
Atty. Chokwe Lumumba, a former Detroiter, has won a seat on City Council in Jackson, Mississippi. Chokwe has been a long-time member of the Republic of New Africa formed in Detroit in 1968.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
Atty. Chokwe Lumumba, a former Detroiter, has won a seat on City Council in Jackson, Mississippi. Chokwe has been a long-time member of the Republic of New Africa formed in Detroit in 1968.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
by Adam Lynch
September 23, 2009
Chokwe Lumumba was one child among seven in Detroit's West side public housing projects. His birth name is Edwin Taliaferro, though he abandoned what he considers his slave name in favor of his current, more nationalistic, equivalent.
He first made a name for himself as vice president and co-founder of the Republic of New Afrika in the 1970s, an organization of black nationalists that demand freedom from an oppressive American government.
Lumumba's history as a lawyer has been equally colorful. In 1976 he joined the staff of the Detroit Public Defenders Office. He set up his own law firm in 1978, dedicated to defending the oppressed. He even sued his old university for allegedly abandoning an affirmative action program for African Americans.
He has locked antlers with bar associations in Michigan and Mississippi. In Michigan he refused to give authorities information about a client, and in 2000, the Mississippi Bar Association reprimanded him for describing Hinds County Circuit Judge Swan Yerger as a racist.
In 1996, Leake County Circuit Court convicted Lumumba's client, Henry Payton, of bank robbery and arson. The Mississippi Supreme Court overturned the decision and sent the trial back to Judge Marcus Gordon for a second round.
The court found Payton guilty again, though Lumumba said Gordon was openly hostile to Payton. In 2001, Lumumba filed a motion for a new trial, based on some jurors' opinion that they had compromised due to Gordon's instructions to continue deliberating until they had a decision. At the hearing Gordon cut off Lumumba's selection of potential jurors. The judge also allowed Payton to be led to the court in chains, possibly coloring jury opinion against Payton, and he interrupted Lumumba during his opening statements.
Lumumba told Clarion-Ledger reporter Jimmie Gates that Gordon "had the judicial demeanor of a barbarian." Gordon held him in contempt for Lumumba's claim of Gordon's unfair handling of the case, which began a chain of events culminating with Lumumba being removed from the courtroom amid challenges from Lumumba that he was proud to be rid of Gordon's presence. He was jailed for three days and fined a combined $800.
In 2003 a bar complaint tribunal decided to reprimand Lumumba, though the bar appealed the tribunal's decision to the Mississippi Supreme Court, requesting a one-year suspension of the attorney. The Supreme Court agreed to a six-month suspension. The Mississippi Supreme Court reinstated Lumumba in 2007 with an 8 to 1 decision.
More recently, Lumumba represented the owners of a Jackson nightclub, the Upper Level, after the city's formerMayor Frank Melton vowed to close the business down as "a public nuisance." Hinds County Chancery Court sided with the city in 2008 and imposed expensive new requirements from the club, such as increased security, a more expensive insurance plan and better record-keeping of employees. Club owners were unable to afford the expensive new requirements, and the club remains closed to this day.
Earlier this year, Lumumba campaigned for and won a seat on the Jackson City Council, after incumbent Ward 2 Councilman Leslie McLemore decided to retire from the post. He spoke to the JFP in his office on Mill Street.
Is it true you were brought up in a Catholic school?
My father was born in Coffeeville, Kansas, but they moved to Detroit. Me and all my brothers were baptized Catholic, and my mother, that was a major move for her because she had been a Baptist all her life from Alabama. My Grandmother let her get away with it, and that's how we were raised. My Dad was like a West Indian: He was always doing three or four jobs. Not only did he have a lot of work to earn a living, but he was always volunteering with the Catholic church, which put us in a position to have major discounts for tuition at the school.
What was your first encounter with racism?
I recall going to Dearborn, Michigan. That's the place that was built for white workers. I can recall my dad with a whole car full of kids pulling into a drive-in, like a Sonic, only they didn't have Sonics at the time, and they literally let us sit there for three hours (before serving us). He was smoldering. Fortunately, my grandmother was in the car at the time, and she held him back, because he had a temper. But I also remember him getting stopped on the road. Officers said he was driving in front of them. I don't know where else he was supposed to drive—they could have gone around him. And he was almost arrested. I think what stopped him from getting arrested was the fact that there were so many kids in the car, and my mother didn't really know how to drive. I remember those experiences, and I remember police officers beating black people down in the streets. Right in the street?
I was probably about 9 or 10, coming back from the movie, and this drunk man, clearly intoxicated, was on the corner, and the police were talking to him. He wasn't really doing anything. Just drunk. And the patrolman started slapping him around. But then the Big Four pulled up. This was a Chrysler, which had two uniformed cops and two detectives in it. I figured, "Oh, they're going to stop this guy from messing with him," but that's not what happened. I literally ran home that day, because I thought I was watching a man get killed.
Then my brother was arrested, because back in those days teenagers were wearing leather jackets. It was a kind of uniform, really. He went and got him one. He had to have one, so he got one, but apparently this white lady's purse was snatched by someone who had a leather jacket like that. Of course, half the neighborhood had leather jackets like that. He wound up getting arrested, and they beat him around at the police station. He was at home at the time of the snatching.
Was there any indication of racism at the church?
My brother encountered racism in the Catholic institution because he was one of the first blacks to be at the predominantly white Catholic church. We had started out at an all-black Catholic school. The nuns there considered our school a mission school. It was in the northeast side of Detroit. To be honest with you, blacks out there lived in the projects. But the blacks in the general area, particularly the ones that went to Catholic schools, were pretty well off. This was an area outside of the projects itself, but we were still considered a mission.
It was an extremely good education. It was the roughest school I ever went to, even compared to law school. I went there for two years before we transferred to St. Theresa, and when we got there it was changing to a black school. That's when the racism came in. The nuns snatched (my brother) off the dance floor once for dancing with a white girl.
I don't suppose they did that with the white kids, too, did they?
It was the kind of racism we had to deal with. But it wasn't everywhere. The coach, for instance, wouldn't tolerate racial division. He was Jewish. He was trying to win games, I suspect, but he also seemed to have a sense of social consciousness. In my class, blacks were the strength of that class, both athletic and academic. If you messed with us, you were messing with the core success of the school, so we were treated a lot better. That wasn't necessarily so with the girls. They caught a lot of hell when their dresses were too short, or something like that. And I saw things coming up through grade school that I cannot say weren't racially motivated. I heard the word n*gger used by some of the students. …
I think the nuns resented that their school was getting black. They felt the school was going downhill, and they acted out on that by slapping some kids inappropriately and using divisive language.
The neighborhood was changing, too?
Yeah, prior to those years, the realtors were working to keep blacks out, and covenants had not been stricken down, but there was no legal segregation.
In 1969, at Wayne State University, in Detroit, where you went to law school, 18 of the 24 black students in your class failed due to a discriminatory grading system. I read that you and other black students took over the law school administration building demanding reinstatement of the students and fair grading practices.
We're the first ones that I know of, that instituted a change in the grading system because of that incident. We protested and seized the building until the students were allowed back in.
There were a lot of statements at the time that you can't expect a lot from black kids, that they can't do well in these types of environments: "Law school is too much for you." There were actually teachers saying that; this was the behavior and failure they expected form black students.
Secondly, there was systematic, cultural deprivation among the failed students because some of the schools students were coming from inner-city Detroit, where the schools probably didn't teach the writing skills necessary in law school. Your writing skills mean a lot in law school. So we had the protest. Everybody got back in, and everybody but two people finished and became lawyers. Some of them became top-notch, well-respected lawyers. One of them is one of the best communication lawyers in the country. He was the one that had the lowest grade.
What were the improvements at the school that made this possible?
They were given more time to acclimate themselves to the writing style that was necessary, so they just did a whole lot better. Our problem was never that we could not understand the law once it was explained. We had the analytical prowess, but the writing necessities, which require you to write major tests on paper within a very short time, was a problem.
I've heard some JSU teachers say they have to teach skills to their freshman students that should have gotten into their heads in high school.
I'm not surprised. Inner-city schools are not all where they need to be. I think I was a little better prepared going into Wayne. When I went into college, I was confronted with a teacher who gave me Fs every time I turned around. I cursed her all kinds of ways, though it wasn't racially motivated. She wasn't satisfied with what I was putting on my paper. She told me to stop writing about roses and flowers and write about something I was really interested in. So I wrote about Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, and I began to learn to improve. … I started changing my writing style in terms of transition words, so by the time I got to law school, I was a pretty decent writer, though law school requires plenty more than just being able to write an essay.
In the 1970s, you became vice president of the Republic of New Afrika, right?
I've read that the RNA formed to coordinate the efforts of activists, grass-roots groups and black nationalists. Does that sound accurate?
There were probably some grass roots involved, but Provisional Government of the Republic of Afrika is the more appropriate name. Our position was that America was showing no sensitivity toward the condition of itself or serious involvement of blacks in the body politic. You have to differentiate between the idea of racial separation and the idea of independent government. It's interesting that the U.S., which started as a government that based itself upon independence, can't make that distinction. Never was the Republic of Afrika in favor of racial separation. White people were not restricted from the organization. The argument was that black folks needed black power in state government. They had to be able to control their own state, which is not a new phenomenon. In our nation's earliest history, the slave rebels—that's the John Browns—had formed a provisional government consisting of Frederick Douglass. Later the Communist Party picked up on the idea, but right after the Civil War, we had people advocating for the migration to places like Kansas or Oklahoma to form black states, basically in reaction to racism.
But we were never about separating the races. We wanted to separate from an oppressive government. The idea, as I see it, is human rights for human beings. If you're a human being, and you're with a group of human beings who are mistreating you, then you have a right to self-determination. Yes, it did involve a lot of activism and grass roots, and was really a who's who of activists in the 1960s and the 1970s.
Was it anti-capitalist or "anti-corporatist"?
Actually, neither. There were people in it who were anti-capitalist, just as there were people in the movement who were aspiring capitalists. Neither one of them defined the movement. Most of us, I believe, learned toward socialism, which can be defined in many forms. We don't believe in the unchecked advance of individualistic capitalism. One provision of government that we most ascribed to was Ujamaa, which means cooperative economics. It comes out of Tanzania. Villages were trying to build self-contained institutions, hospitals and so forth, so they could take care of people in that community.
Does your dual participation in the Republic of New Afrika and Jackson city government say anything about the local city government?
My view is that we're still entitled to self-determination, but right now I'm in a coalition with a number of people who want to make Jackson better. I want to make it better. My view is long range, and it may have fleeting relevance at the moment that if we don't get anything done then nobody will be happy. I believe that we have to empower the population of Jackson in order to feed, clothe and house people, and give people a sense of growth and a sense of destiny. As long as black folks are on the floor economically, with big segments of unemployment and underemployment, then the whole of human society in America can't advance, because they're all economically tied together. That's where I'm at right now.
The struggle I was in was never just to go off and form some black state for black people. The idea was to change the whole body politic of North America. Our view is that when you begin to raise the bottom, you raise everybody else. So I'm very supportive of workers rights. I don't care who the worker is. I'm very supportive of the struggle against all forms of discrimination, be it sexual orientation or whatever it is.
Speaking on the pay-raise attempt this last week, do you think the administration could have actually delivered a sustainable pay raise that would not have been so painful to fund?
I voted for the pay raise because I think it should happen, because you can't have different results if you keep doing the same thing. I think, in defense of the administration and the other council members, we just got here. There's a lot of things that could happen in four years. I think Johnson was trying to say, "I need time to get my feet on the ground, and if I have time to look at things perhaps we can (make this raise possible)." If that's what he's saying, then I'll back his point. But if he's saying somehow or another he is going to do the same thing they've always been doing and squeeze out pay raises, well, it ain't gonna happen.
I've got four years to pursue some new approaches. The public sector has to put more money in peoples' hands. If they put more money in, then people will spend more. If they spend more, you create more income for the city as a whole.
Going back to the RNA—it's so damn tantalizing—in 1972 the RNA purchased land near Jackson, Miss. Is it true the land was road-blocked by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies?
Yes, they blocked it temporarily.
What was their legal justification?
They were saying, "You're trying to come in and take over Mississippi."
That was their legal argument?
No, that was their public stance. There was no legal standing.
They didn't try to claim you were stealing water from the city or anything like that?
In March of 1971, we purchased the land. The owner of the land was very much behind us. He started getting a lot of pressure from the FBI and everybody else to dump the deal. That was in March. Later on, during the roadblock, we were totally within our rights. They had set up a roadblock, headed by Lloyd Jones. We called him "Goon" Jones, because he was one of the people involved in shooting those Jackson State students (in 1970). He was with the Mississippi Highway Patrol. Jones set up a block. And we said, "Look, we come in peace, but we come prepared. And we're going to our land."
We went toward the land, and they decided to back down and open up the roadblock, and we went through.
What would've happened if they hadn't backed down?
I don't know. We had our instructions that we were going to provide for all lawful restraints, like if somebody wanted to check our license and tickets, but we weren't going to get jumped on. They certainly weren't going to do what they'd done to the Jackson State students, because if they had, we would have had to defend ourselves. What may have contributed to the peaceful conclusion was the FBI. An FBI car pulled in front of our caravan, and we stopped, and I went up to the car and asked them what the problem was. They said, "It was an accident," that they didn't mean to pull up in front of our car.
Just to get an image here, what kind of people were sitting in your vehicle? I have the image of a van filled to brimming with angry stares and people with lots of leather and guns.
It was a caravan full of people from age 2 up to 80. This was men, women and children. We had security, but these were regular people. So when the FBI stopped us and drove away that may have influenced Jones' people. We kind of felt like the Red Sea had parted. We drove onto the land and were exhilarated, feeling like we had accomplished a mission.
Tell me about the Brinks Case. In 1981, New York Judge Irving Ben Cooper barred you from representing Fulani Sunni Ali (Cynthia Boston) on charges arising from an armored car robbery incident. What were the grounds for Cooper's decision?
Hey, you got the name right. You're good. (Cooper) said I was a nationalist attorney and thought I might try to break Fulani out of jail. At the time I said, "I don't have to do that. All I have to do is walk her out of the front." I was a good enough lawyer to win the case, and I was, and she did walk free. Her husband was found not guilty. They never convicted anybody for (that robbery) except for Mutulu Shakur, but that was in a much later trial.
Tupac's step-dad. I think he was the only one convicted of robbing it. Not that he had robbed it, but that he had helped plan the robbery. Everybody in the case I worked with, all six or seven clients were found not guilty.
He got convicted for the breaking out of Assata Shakur, who was considered by many blacks in the northeast as the Harriet Tubman of the northeast. She was involved in the Black Panther's many food programs. They had accused her originally of being involved in the suppression of drug houses—they would throw the drugs down the toilet and take the weapons (to undermine police). That originally was why they were looking for her. When they arrested her, they shot her in the process, but while they were shooting her, some of her comrades shot back and an officer got killed.
You argue she never did any shooting?
Clearly it wasn't her because she was paralyzed in her arm. They took her to trial, and she got found not guilty eight different times on different charges. What she got convicted of was being an accomplice in the shooting incident with the police officer—felony murder. She was involved in the shooting, an all-white jury said. The medical testimony bore out that she didn't do it, but the all-white jury didn't care.
The New York press was just rough. In every magazine, I'd see myself as a nationalist lawyer. I had to be very careful.
You were held in contempt by the district judge for your comments to the press at the time, weren't you?What were those comments?
I didn't say it to the press. I said it to the judge. I told him he was handling the case like a racist. This wasn't Cooper. I had never been held in contempt before. The Judge, Kevin Duffy, started out the trial with an anonymous jury, sending a message that these (defendants) were dangerous people. They told them they were protecting them from the press, but The New York Times said, "bull-crap," the judge thinks these are dangerous people. A couple of jurors came in and said, "What about that article in the New York Times? Everybody in the jury room is talking about these being dangerous people."
I said, "Judge, you can't be the only one asking the jury questions. We get to ask questions, too."
"No," he said.
"Well, judge, you've got to ask the jurists, every one of them, if they've been violated by that article."
"No," he said.
"Judge, what are you going to do about it?"
Was he trying to alienate you from the jury?
It was clear that he was trying to divorce us from any real contact with the jurors, and as a criminal defense lawyer, you know that you have to humanize not only yourself, but your clients. And if you can't really talk to the jurors, then you have a problem. His thing was you couldn't talk to (the jury) before the trial, and even when you got to the trial, if you had an objection, he'd put buttons under the table. You had to push either a green or red button for him to know you were objecting. Now how he was supposed to know what you were objecting to was impossible to tell.
These were the restrictions. The whole case was going to go down the tubes without a fair trial if we accepted that arrangement. So what I did was I challenged the judge at every opportunity I got—mostly when the jury wasn't there, because I wasn't trying to distance myself from the jurists. I challenged him, and challenged him, and what he did, in turn, was restrict my cross-examination, and hold me to standards he held nobody else to, and finally he was calling me the village idiot and other stuff. So, based upon his comments, I said this trial is very racist, and things of that nature.
Mind you, he didn't hold me in contempt then. He said, "We'll deal with you later." We got all the way to the end of the trial, and at the end, six months later, the judge, in my opinion, was of the attitude that he was ready to forget what I'd said. He wasn't going to say anything about our encounter. His whole thing was that Lumumba's crazy. His clients will get convicted, and they're going away for a long time, and that'll be satisfying enough for him.
That's not what happened, was it?
He had to hear them read off eight counts of "not guilty" for each one of them. I wasn't there, because the judge had let me go home to Detroit. But he didn't call me back, he just took the jury verdict, and my co-counsel said that every time someone said, "not guilty," his head would go down a little bit. By the time the got to the last "not guilty," his head was down to the desk. He then immediately said, "Where's Lumumba? He should be here. I'm holding him in contempt."
Then all the lawyers jumped up and said, "You can't hold him in contempt. You told him he could go home."
He issued a contempt order for my statement after the trial. He initially held me in contempt and sentenced me himself, but the court of appeals reversed that and cited case law saying he could not do that on his own. If he had given me some kind of consequence at the time I'd called him racist, he could've sentenced me, but since he waited for the end of the trial, that showed he did not have to take action to vindicate the authority of the court.
Your reputation preceded you. I read that you had to wait three years for your application to practice law in Mississippi to be granted. Is that unusual? What was the hold-up? What did the Bar tell you?
That was for two reasons. They used the New York thing, but that was just a hook. They basically didn't want me in because I believed in the peaceful overthrow of the U.S. government. First of all, I'm not sure that's illegal. We weren't calling for the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. We were calling for giving people in a given region the chance to vote. That's legal, certainly under international law and through U.S. law. There's nothing wrong with taking a vote and changing government. They never explained that charge, but it was my connection to the cause. They had also neglected to check to see that I had come here to represent people from St. Louis who had been beat up while driving through Jackson back when Dale Danks was mayor.
The Mississippi Bar publicly reprimanded you for speaking out against Hinds County Circuit Judge Swan Yerger after Yerger dismissed a lawsuit one of your clients brought against a white police officer. Do you still feel Yerger's dismissal was discriminatory?
No question about it. Yerger had a terrible record. (I believe) it's spurred by his racial beliefs and his conservative connection to the institutional defense of insurance companies. Every plaintiff who is black, in his view is his enemy, in my opinion. Here's his track record: I represented a case where a young man was suing Trustmark Bank, and the first case went to Yerger. (The defense) had forgotten to file an answer to the complaint. My predecessor had filed a complaint, and because they had not filed an answer to the complaint he was subject to default. Yerger wouldn't even consider it.
Second, I represented the Jackson Advocate in a case where they were suing the city of Jackson because they had awarded the Mississippi Link the right to publish the city's legal ads. Yerger refused to give it to the black-owned Jackson Advocate, which could have been reasonable, but then he took it from the Mississippi Link, which is also black-owned, and gave it to The Northside Sun. That was his resolution.
There were three other incidents. I can't recall everything about them. My client was suing the police department because a white police officer had come on the scene when this white couple had run him off the road and caused him to have an accident. The white police officer, according to another officer in the national guard, who was a white guy, a captain, testified that he saw the white police officer come on the scene after my client had been run off the road and went over and talked to the people who ran him off the road. It wasn't like he didn't know them, okay, but my guy was suing because the white cop refused to produce the information as to who the couple was, even though he talked to them.
We went to trial, (which ended) with a hung jury. We prepared for a retrial. Judge Graves recused himself and it got bounced around. The city attorney's office had its own problems because of the high turn-over rate of that position, so the case got delay after delay. So a new city attorney filed a motion to dismiss because of a failure to prosecute. ... Heck, the city attorney didn't really expect it to be granted, I bet. But then Yerger comes in there and says, "Dismissed."
My interpretation was that it was racist. If you go into any witness room, or conference room with attorneys sitting around and talking, if there's 10 of them, nine would say they think Yerger is either racist or so biased for insurance companies that his decision-making can not be relied upon.
Then when I made the statement, there's no telling how many attorneys walked up and agreed with me. Even old-timers, who I thought would be a part of the old boys' network, agreed with me.
There is an oppressive culture in the state courtrooms that goes beyond race. It oppresses lawyers, because they are the ones identified with trying to protect the rights of the disenfranchised. In my view, there is a lot of legitimate sentiment out here.
Just to give you a hint: When the bar, in an unprecedented move, sent an invitation to all the lawyers over the state to voice comment on my being reinstated over the Judge Gordon thing, I got 85 lawyers who said I should be reinstated and only three that said I shouldn't.
Do you still stand by your opinion on Gordon?
I think that Gordon had a very oppressive demeanor when he dealt with attorneys in the courtroom, not just clients. Since that incident, he has been much different with me. In my opinion, I get as much respect or more than just about every other attorney who comes in there. We understand each other. He understands that I'm not going to be pushed around, and I understand that there was a different way I could have said some things I said. Now, I don't take anything back from what I said in the New York case. But in Gordon's case I could have said other things that would have made the same point.
Given that, I make sure that when I approach him that I'm still zealous, but there are more ways to say things than through accusations. I've been up before Gordon a few times since with success. One of the cases I've got pending is one where he made a ruling that I appealed to the Supreme Court. We'll see how it comes out. I think he's wrong in the ruling, but at least he was civil about it. He didn't get mad at me for raising it.
But Gordon passes through a cultural prism. So do I, frankly, but his is quite different from mine. He comes from a different side of the fence and a different side of the white supremacy argument. And when I say the white supremacy argument I don't mean Klansmen who run around calling people the n-word. I mean people who really believe that white people should be in control and that black people's participation should be at the behest of that control.
Look at the way he handled the (Edger Ray) Killen case. He did give him the maximum manslaughter sentence, but he let him out on bond. My man was just there for robbery. He didn't kill anybody, and he has never been out on bond, not pre-trial, post-trial or appeal. Then here's Killen out on bond. He's 72 or 73. Chances are he was going to die before he served his sentence. The way I view it, through the cultural prism, is that that qualified as racist behavior. But as a person, I don't really have a problem with Gordon anymore. We come from two different worlds.
You said just before the run-off election that you planned to form your own political party. How's that going? And why is it necessary?
You guys saw a YouTube thing that I would have to see again, right? I have never intended to form my own political party, but I have definitely been involved with groups that have talked about it and probably will. Coming out of the New Orleans experience with Katrina, there was discussion about a Reconstruction Party, something that represented New Orleans fighting for its rebirth.
My platform proves that I'm more democratic than most anybody else up there, but let me say this, too: I'm a creature of the Movement. I have a high degree of suspicion against established parties who have been very detrimental to people. The Mississippi Democratic Party, in contrast to the national party, is somewhat unique because of Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party. In some ways, the Mississippi Democratic Party has been reconstructed. Remember, they challenged the party by going up there to the convention and refusing to leave. By 1972, because of the challenge, the Mississippi Democratic Party has reformed into a party that requires half of its population of its party delegates to be women, and half to be black. So that probably is the most inclusive party in the country. I guess that's why most of the whites left.
That, and good ole Lyndon Johnson.
(Laughter) Now, in Mississippi, the party is, to a large extent, a black party. They have some whites in it, but it's mostly black. So, I feel I'm much more comfortable being in the Democratic Party in Mississippi over the national party. I still have some problems with the national party.
Barack Obama is the president. He's still in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are things that the national Democratic Party does that still buy into corporate control. The reason I think they're over there is because of oil. I think Obama's stuck there trying to figure a way out. I hope.
The Mississippi Democratic Party has experienced a transition that I've personally witnessed. If a decision is made that I decide to participate in, it's because we feel it's the best decision for the people. That, and the local party is likable, and I'll try to take them with me wherever I go.
You had pushed for a "Jackson First" type policy during the campaign for hiring and contracts with the city, basically privileging Jackson residents. How feasible is that?
The routes to it have been prescribed by prior council and mayoral decisions, but I don't think they always follow them. There's a minority set-aside, maybe 20 percent, but I've seen contracts with much greater involvement than 20 percent that Harvey (Johnson) has put up. Minority set-asides are great for Jackson. Secondly, with Jackson First, I'm looking at blacks, and then people who are closer by, in terms of these contracts. This doesn't mean that a guy from New York can't have a contract, but I will demand you do something to show how this is benefiting us. You can't just come in and make a lot of money. I think it will help the racial disparity and help the Jackson economy.
I'll turn the question around. If Ridgeland, Madison, Flowood, Pearl, Brandon and Clinton can do it, why can't we? I'm sure the people in this city are at least as smart as the people there, so why not.
What's the status of the Upper Level lawsuit?
The city put restrictions upon the club, with the decision of Chancery Court Judge Dewayne Thomas, that were largely unaffordable (by the club owners). I would challenge any club in the city to bear those same restrictions and be able to afford them. You'd close down 80 percent of the clubs in Jackson with those restrictions. The case is still in court. They're going back to chancery court in October, and they might work out something to get them back in business before then, but I'm not on the case anymore.
I blame the mayor at the time (Frank Melton), and the city attorney (Sarah O'Reily-Evans), and to the extent of their insistence to stand on the case, I blame them right now.
... I've heard people say there are many neighborhoods where you'd have a hard time not finding crack or marijuana or some form of drug sold out of it.
If you're looking for a little weed, the college duplexes in Belhaven are the place to go, and then there's a number of clubs on State Street where you'll sniff that familiar smell. Frank had something against the Upper Level. I won't put a rumor out there, but after his election it became a part of his demagoguery that he would close this place down, and he stuck with it. That's what led to the whole incident. Any lawyer who's touched it knows Frank was wrong, and that's why I have little sympathy for any lawyer who's still trying to defend it.
Who's handling the suit of the Upper Level manager who allegedly got beat up by people traveling with the mayor?
My office-mate Imhotep Alkebu-Lan, and attorney Sharon Gipson might still be on it. I think the suit will have an impact on getting the club reopened up, but I don't know the details, and they're trying to get that worked out.
Do you still defend your vote to delay naming the library after Charles Tisdale?
My vote was exactly right, and the Jackson Advocates' response was exactly wrong. I can understand it from an emotional point of view, but their person in charge of the paper didn't have that reaction on the day the vote was made. Hopefully, we can get beyond this and move on.
Are things smoother between you and the Advocate these days?
I don't know. I'll have to ask one of my experts.
How would you describe the city council these days, compared the council of three years ago?
We've had a magic moment in the history of the city.
We have a good group of people on the council who really care for the city. I don't mind people asking me about my background. It's nothing to be ashamed of, but we don't need to lose focus. There are certain people who will disagree with my bent. There are people in my campaign who didn't agree with me, but we need to come together to benefit everybody in this city, which benefits the whole state.
Let's make the most of the moment. Let's seize the time and do it right. I'm going to get along with everybody who wants to do that, and I'll likely battle with people who don't.
Can you see yourself running again in about four years?
I think I'll take the fifth on that.