Shelia Byrd, AP, August 1, 2006
Jackson, Miss. — The national American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday accused the city’s black mayor of civil rights violations including racial profiling in his crusade to stem crime in Mississippi’s capital city.
The accusations against Mayor Frank Melton and police are based on complaints from people who say they were pulled over on the basis of their race and searched without probable cause, the ACLU’s national racial profiling coordinator, King Downing, said at a news conference.
“For me to leave my office and come into one of the states means that there is a very serious problem,” said Downing, who is based in New York. “There are problems here that it’s going to take the attention of the nation in order to solve.”
Downing said the mayor’s race should make him “more sensitive to the problems this is creating.”
However, Melton said in an interview Tuesday that he wasn’t interested in the ACLU’s complaints against him or the police, and denied he had violated anyone’s civil rights.
“We have 26 people that have been killed in Jackson this year. We have 300,000 people killed across America each year. The majority of them are African-American and it’s time to do something different,” Melton said. “I want to know what the ACLU wants to do besides criticize.”
Melton declared a state of emergency last month to attack the city’s escalating crime problem, basically adopting a stricter curfew for teenagers and homeless people. He also continued his practice of riding with police officers on patrol or at roadblocks.
The city’s population of 184,256 is nearly 71 percent black, and 23.5 percent live below the poverty level.
Since his election, federal authorities have told him to quit packing his pistol on commercial airline flights, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood told him to stop wearing police gear, and Faye Peterson, the district attorney in Jackson, has said the mayor was breaking the law by impersonating a police officer.
Melton criticized the ACLU’s plan to hold meetings in Jackson to inform residents of their rights if they’re stopped by police.
“I hope they don’t obstruct justice and give people false information because if they do, then we’ll be focusing on them and we’ll come after them,” Melton said.