LEXINGTON, Miss. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that federal courts had issued desegregation order for 32 Mississippi school districts.
According to Assistant Attorney Kristen Clarke of U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, the desegregation order fits into a larger body of civil right work that has been launched in Mississippi. This includes examining jails and police departments, as well as hate crimes, in the state. She referred to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that banned segregation in public schools throughout the country. The Justice Department, she added, is working to ensure Black students have equal access to educational programs.
Clarke stated that “in our efforts to fulfill the promises of Brown v. Board of Education we have 32 cases open with school districts in Mississippi.” In each case, we work to ensure that the districts follow desegregation court orders.
Clarke addressed a small audience of residents, local officials and reporters at the Holmes County Circuit Court Complex, located in Lexington. Jackson, the capital, is about 62 miles away. Clarke is on a “listening trip” through the Deep South. The latest stop was in Mississippi. She said that the Justice Department was learning how to best direct its resources and determine where civil rights suits might be necessary.
Mississippi has the largest percentage of Black residents in any state. As in other states, it has seen legal battles over desegregation. After nearly 50 years, a Mississippi Delta school district merged its two high schools in 2017.
Clarke stated that in addition to Mississippi school districts, at least five jails and prisons are being scrutinized by the federal government. The Department is examining whether or not the prisons and jails are safe for prisoners, as well as meeting housing standards. These facilities include the Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman; the South Mississippi Correctional Institution; the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility; the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility; and the Hinds County Jail.
Clarke said that her division is also investigating whether Rankin County Sheriff’s Deputies overused force when they shot Michael Corey Jenkins during an alleged raid on drugs. A Associated Press investigation revealed that deputies of the department were involved in four violent encounters between Black men and their officers since 2019. Two Black men died, while another sustained permanent injuries.
Clarke refused to provide more information about the case citing a federal civil rights investigation that is ongoing. She met with local residents to discuss allegations of police violence in the small town after delivering her prepared remarks. A federal lawsuit alleges that police have “terrorized”, or intimidated, Black residents through false arrests, excessive violence, and intimidation.
“I hope she will address these issues seriously.” “She should not gloss over the issues, but rather, she should speak about them in depth and state that they are wrong, if they happen,” said Jill Collen Jefferson of JULIAN. JULIAN is a civil rights group that filed a federal lawsuit on behalf a group Lexington residents.
The Justice Department did not announce an investigation of the Lexington Police Department.
Jefferson said that her organization intends to file a lawsuit in the next few months against the Lexington Police Department.