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Psalms for Jackson Mississippi

iOne Creative

Right now, in Jackson, Mississippi, in the year of our Lord 2022, whenever some 150,000 residents run their tap, brown or yellow sludge is likely to come rushing out, rendering their water about as useful as a bucket of dirty liquid hauled from a mudhole in remote parts of Angola. That’s how Mississippi’s Republican governor and its mostly white, overwhelmingly Republican state legislature has the people of Mississippi’s capital city, mostly Black, overwhelmingly Democratic, living—brushing their teeth and showering their bodies and making their food with bottled water.
Now understand, this is exponentially better than the last few weeks, when torrential rains and massive flooding knocked out the city’s sewer pump, leaving the people of Jackson without the water pressure necessary to do even the most basic of things, like flush their toilets and fight fires. In a country where the government fills its coffers with 23 percent of the working person’s salary, sends billions to Ukraine in its war with Russia, and billionaires are paying $5.4 billionwith a “b” for four minutes of weightlessness in a rocket ride to suborbital space, what’s happening in Jackson is a crime and a damn shame.

And it’s not new. The city’s water system has been an ongoing mess for decades, with some residents reporting that, for years, they’ve been walking upward of three miles to fill five-gallon jugs with water they have to buy in order to brush their teeth and cook and bathe. The water system’s deterioration came to a head last year, when a terrible winter storm shut it all the way down, forcing the city to go without clean running water for an entire month—in the middle of the pandemic. All eyes were on Jackson then, but clearly, little was done to fix the problem.
In fact, Governor Tate Reeves and the merry bandits of Mississippi’s Republican-led legislature seem to have worked overtime to make matters worse. Tate vetoed a bill that would have made it a little easier for the Jackson Public Works Department to collect water revenue and, in special circumstances, forgive exorbitant bills for people who can’t afford to pay them. Tate’s reasoning for the denial: it would give the impression that “the government has free money floating around to pay for all of these things.” In April, the state legislature imposed state oversight over $42 million in federal funds slated for Jackson’s water and sewer projects and said the city must use those funds by 2027 or risk losing them—restrictions that apply to no other local government in the state receiving American Rescue Plan Act funds. The legislature also went on vacay without acting on a bill that would have matched those federal funds, choosing instead to let that promise die in committee.
All of this is beyond rich—pun intended—considering the Mississippi is roiling over a state audit that reveals some $70 million in federal funds earmarked for Mississippi’s most needy was allegedly steered to two state programs that grossly mishandled the cash. The most epic scandal in that audit goes to former Governor Phil Bryant and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, who are alleged to have knowingly taken $5 million of that money meant for the poor to help build a volleyball stadium at the University of Southern Mississippi, where Favre’s daughter was studying.
A volleyball stadium. I reckon with running water that one can drink and also wash in. Built with money that could be in the hands of poor mothers in Jackson using their SNAP benefits to buy bottled water so their babies’ formula can be mixed with something other than the sludge coming out of the faucets.
Meanwhile, Mississippi Senator Bennie Thompson notes that Tate annem are happy as hell to use the city’s population count to draw down federal funds for the state, but quick to use those funds to build up the mostly-white suburbs, where, surely, residents can flush their excrement down the toilet and cook a pot of grits without having to gather and pay for water in jugs from the store like people in third world countries with zero public infrastructure or immediate access to clean, running water.
And where does this leave the city of Jackson, literally a capital of a U.S. state? Kids can’t physically go to school. Mothers can’t go to work. Residents, some of the poorest in the poorest state in the union (one in four of Jackson’s residents live in poverty, with the average wages running between $15,000 and $25,000 in some of its poorest pockets), must spend what little money they have on water and disposable dishes and cutlery that they can trash, because they can’t simply wash dishes. Colleges can’t provide basics to their students, like running showers and nutritious meals. Sanitation is non-existent. Public safety is put at severe risk. Basic healthcare can’t be provided, and the community becomes an incubator for diseases that are preventable where water is a given.
This is happening right here, in America, again, in the year of the Good Lawdy, 2022.
This isn’t just about government neglect and ineptitude. This is about the denial of basic human rights, tied up in the structural racism that would just as soon have a community of poor Black folk returning to the days when raw sewage and impure water were the standard, right along with outhouses and baths drawn with buckets of water warmed on wood stoves, than do right by these American citizens. Jackson, Flint, where Black folk have been held hostage since 2014 by water full of lead and a Legionnaires outbreak, Baltimore, where kids, mostly Black, can’t drink the water in the public schools—all of that willful ugliness lobbed at these mostly Black communities work as a battering ram against the personhood and psyches of American Black folk. This here is racial. This here is personal.
This here is injustice in the highest order.
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