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.