Multiple water pumps at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant failed last week after severe storms caused the Pearl River to flood, prompting low water pressure and risk of bacterial infection, according to a press release from the Mississippi Department of Health. Federal and state officials — including President Joe Biden, Governor Tate Reeves (R-MS), and Jackson Democrat Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba — have issued emergency declarations as many residents of the state capital are unable to access potable water.
Some have pointed to a general economic decline in Jackson as a factor behind the crisis since the city’s population declined from roughly 174,000 residents in 2010 to 154,000 residents in 2020, according to data from the Census Bureau. Others have noted political turmoil, as Jackson has seen eight mayors since 1997, including two who died in office. In its coverage of the crisis, however, CNN continues to float “systemic racism” as a viable explanation.
“Advocates have previously pointed to systemic and environmental racism as among the causes of Jackson’s ongoing water issues and lack of resources to address them,” CNN reported on August 31, noting that the Mississippi legislature is “majority white” while the population of Jackson is overwhelmingly “black.”
In another article published on September 3, CNN said that “white flight” is responsible for the city’s population decline, while “the state’s Republican-controlled legislature, which is predominantly white, has thwarted efforts to upgrade the black metropolis’s decrepit water system.” The article noted that Reeves refused to allocate $47 million for repairs and has asked the city to “start collecting their water bill payments before they start going and asking everyone else to pony up more money” after a previous water crisis.
In an opinion piece published on August 31, W. Ralph Eubanks said that the “White power structure” in Mississippi was responsible for the crisis. “How could a state ignore the needs of the residents of its capital city and allow things to deteriorate to this point? The answer as I see it is simple: racism,” he said. “Jackson is a Black majority city and Mississippi is governed by a White Republican supermajority that refuses to invest in Jackson because of who lives there and who governs it.”
For evidence, Eubanks referred to remarks from deceased Sen. James Kimble Vardaman (D-MS), who called African-Americans in Mississippi “lazy, lying, lustful animals.” He neglected to mention, however, that Vardaman was born months after the Civil War began and died in 1930. Though Eubanks said that messaging from the current leadership of Mississippi is “not much different” from the late lawmaker’s comments, he did not cite any specific examples.
None of the articles from CNN mentioned that every mayor of Jackson since 1997 has been African-American. Also missing from the discussion is the reality that Jackson overcharged residents or neglected to charge them at all in a series of clerical issues stemming from a contract with Siemens to upgrade sewer lines, water treatment plants, and water-sewer billing systems. The unpaid bills reportedly hamstrung Jackson’s ability to fix its water infrastructure.
In June 2020, Reeves accordingly vetoed legislation that would have exempted some residents from paying water obligations. “I’m very concerned about the ‘free money’ concept that has taken over politics today,” Reeves argued. “Allowing a few politicians to determine who does and does not have to pay for government services is bad policy. It removes all responsibility for the city from the equation.”
CNN’s apparent willingness to chalk up the Mississippi water crisis to “systemic racism” — while neglecting to provide any rationale for why race has a salient impact on Jackson’s decades of water infrastructure issues — is by no means a new rhetorical tactic from Left-wing commentators. In fact, as Daily Wire Editor Emeritus Ben Shapiro has written about “systemic racism,” such accusations are rooted in the notion that disparity is always a sign of discrimination — while asking for evidence is often “treated as proof of guilt.”
“In the end, evidence for systemic racism is utterly unnecessary,” Shapiro commented. “Systemic racism requires no evidence of intent, either individual or systemic. It requires only evidence of disparate outcome by race.”