At the Mississippi Mudbug Festival in May, a shooting occurred. One person was killed and at least five were wounded at what should have been a great family event. This comes on the heels of news that Jackson, our state capital, had the highest number of per capita homicides in the country in 2021. More than New York. More than Chicago. More than New Orleans.
It’s not just a Jackson problem. Spillover crime now affects the whole state. According to the CDC, Mississippi now has the highest number of per capita deaths to homicide in the country.
A few days before the Mudbug shooting, I was preparing to go to National Guard drill for the weekend. Usually I try to find and recommend a few things for my wife to do with our two girls, ages three and eight months, to occupy them while I’m away. That day I sent my wife a link to the Mudbug Festival.
Thankfully, they chose not to go. I cannot imagine the grief and guilt I would feel if they’d been hurt. When I read the news, an intense anger swept over me. I thought about the crime wave that is plaguing our capital and the families who’ve lost loved ones.
Why is this crime wave happening? For one, we have too many young men growing up without their fathers and the discipline that comes with having two parents in the home. They are being raised by the streets.
Second, we can blame those who would criticize and defund the police. FBI statistics show there has been a massive increase in murders due to this age of bad-mouthing law enforcement. It’s called the “Ferguson Effect”: when police are unfairly criticized and defunded, they are forced to pull back from poor communities. And fewer people want to go into law enforcement. The result is murder and death.
Third, in Jackson, we have a catch-and-release problem. Criminals — typically young men — break a law or two, are arrested, are released, and then go back out and commit a more violent crime. One of the alleged Mudbugs shooters was a repeat offender. He’d been arrested multiple times, previously, for armed robbery and carjacking.
The solution is not complicated. As Manhattan Institute scholar Rafael Mangual has pointed out, there are tons of strong studies showing the same thing: “more police means less crime.” If we’re going to get serious about fixing this, we need to Back the Blue and reinvest in law enforcement.
The value of our officers could be seen at the Mudbugs event. Video shows officers jumping into action as the bullets flew. These men and women put their lives on the line for us every day. But too often we find that there are not enough of them, society does not acknowledge their sacrifices, and they are not paid enough.
In addition, after violent perpetrators are caught, the state is going to have to be tough on them. They need to go to jail and stay there. Too often people obsess over the rights of these perpetrators and a desire to save money by letting them out early. We need more people standing up for the victims. When you let a violent criminal out, there’s the chance that some innocent family — and it’s usually families in the poorest areas of the state — will be hurt. For their sake, it’s time to put a stop to this.
Shad White is the 42nd State Auditor of Mississippi.