Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Jackson, Miss., Mayor Faces 20 Years

Even a mandate can be revoked. That's perhaps the lesson — one of many — to be learned from Jackson, Mississippi, mayor Frank Melton.

Melton, elected mayor in 2005, was seen as a straight-talking, tough-on-crime candidate. The Flyer even ran a cover story that detailed Melton's penchant for donning police-issue bullet-resistant vests and joining police checkpoints. (He was once the head of the state's narcotics bureau.)

But a year later, Melton participated in a raid on a duplex that opened him up to a host of legal problems. A state jury found him innocent of burgulary and malicious mischief, but he is scheduled to appear in federal court January 5th.

USAToday has a longer story about Melton today:

"Justice Department prosecutors say Melton directed a band of men, some with criminal records, to attack the duplex with sledgehammers, tearing out its front wall.

Melton has never specifically said what he did that night. He has called the raid a 'procedural error' that, he said, is a matter for the civil courts.

Despite the mayor's insistence that the house was used to sell drugs, no drugs, cash or weapons were seized that night. The owner of the duplex has sued the city."

Jackson City Council president Leslie Burl McLemore was quoted as saying that "no one in the state of Mississippi, no one in the city of Jackson, had the mandate Frank Melton had, from rich and poor and black and white. That doesn't happen. That's the work of movies, of fiction. But he squandered it."

During the Leadership Academy's luncheon with Newark, New Jersey, mayor Corey Booker, much was made of Booker's ride-alongs with police. For Booker, it seems like it was more of a way of getting buy-in from the police department for his crime initiatives.

However, I think there is danger in putting more emphasis on the ride-along than it deserves. It got a lot of lip service at the Leadership Academy's young politicos forum, as well, and while I think it's great for elected officials to see first-hand what police are dealing with on the streets, Melton is a good example of how it can all go very wrong.

In a related but unrelated note, I happened to be in Jackson over the weekend and had dinner at the Mayflower Cafe. I would suggest it if you're in the area, but you might want to go to the bathroom before you get there. Especially if it's cold.

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