News and Commentary

Radical Mayor Tackles ‘Visual Dehumanization’ Of Mugshots

In an executive order meant to “humanize individuals” and “foster systemic transformation,” the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi has forbidden the city’s police force from releasing mugshots of people engaged in officer-involved shootings.

“A mug shot is just one snapshot in time, and cannot be presumed to represent the sum total of any individual’s existence,” said Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who is affiliated with the black nationalist movement. “Removing the visual dehumanization that occurs when mug shots are used will be the first step we as a city take to engage in a truthful and honest conversation on violent crime.”

The mayor announced the policy change last Monday, following the recent death of a 37-year-old man who was shot and killed by Jackson police officers.

“The last image of any person should not be on the worst day of their life or the worst image that we could possibly provide,” he said.

Lumumba called on law enforcement to “go the extra mile and find an image that gives respect to those individuals who are no longer living on this Earth,” suggesting officials utilize social media or consult with families of the deceased.

There have been seven officer-involved shootings in Jackson, the largest city in the state, since Lumumba took office last summer. The 34-year-old criminal defense attorney won the mayoralty in a landslide, capturing 93% of the vote after promising to turn Mississippi’s capital into “the most radical city on the planet.”

Black residents constitute 80% of Jackson’s population.

Chokwe Antar Lumumba ran on the same platform as his father, Chokwe Lumumba Sr., who was elected mayor of Jackson in 2013 but died while in office less than a year into his term. Many of his supporters suspected foul play, including one local politician who speculated that Lumumba Sr. was “murdered.” Such theories prompted Louis Farrakhan to help pay for an autopsy, which determined that the 66-year-old had suffered an aortic aneurysm.

Lumumba Sr., the father of the current mayor, first came to Jackson in the 1970s as a leader with the Republic of New Afrika (RNA) — a revolutionary group that advocated for the creation of a separate, independent black-majority nation situated in the southeastern region of the United States.

Following Lumumba Sr.’s death in 2014, The New York Times reported:

Mr. Lumumba hardly moderated his views in recent years. In an interview last year he continued to defend the Republic of New Afrika. The day after his election, he raised hackles by questioning Columbus’s historical importance. And at his inauguration, he could not resist raising his fist in the black power salute and shouting an old slogan: “Free the Land!”

“Free the Land” is a motto that was often shouted by RNA members, then later adopted by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) — another black nationalist group that Lumumba Sr. co-founded in 1990.

Since its formation, MXGM has been organizing the residents of Jackson, home of its first official chapter. By 2008, members were making plans to change the system from within. One leader had suggested the group “should run Lumumba and begin training Chokwe Antar — who was then finishing law school in Texas — to run for office in the future,” according to “Vice.”

Ten years later, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba acknowledges being a “proud member” of MXGM, which maintains that “the collective institutions of white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism” have been at the root of black oppression.

Lumumba’s mugshot directive asks the people of Jackson, and its majority-black police force, to reimagine a different criminal justice system.

“We owe it to ourselves to shift the paradigm around violence and crime, while simultaneously engaging in building relationships, examining, updating and creating policies that allow us to humanize individuals and foster systemic transformation,” he wrote.

At the signing of the executive order, Lumumba confirmed that city police would no longer release mugshots of juveniles, according to the Jackson Free Press. The mayor encouraged other municipalities to implement similar reforms.

Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.

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