Last September, my newspaper reported that on August 26, 2006, Jackson, Mississippi Mayor Frank Melton had taken an entourage of police officers and teenagers (some with criminal records) to a duplex in a poor neighborhood. Stating that the duplex was home to drug dealers, Mayor Melton then directed the odd mix of cops and teenagers to destroy the house with sledgehammers.
Strange as it may seem, none of this surprised us.
This is just our mayor—“Frank,” as the former television executive and ousted director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics insists that everyone call him. Most people, including a doting mainstream media, do.
Even before he was elected mayor, Frank Melton was known around Jackson as a loose cannon with little regard for civil liberties or the U.S. Constitution. He was adept at saying what people want to hear. The African American TV executive from Texas defeated the capital city’s first black mayor in 2005 by absurdly promising to rid the city of crime and “thugs” (clearly referring to the black variety) within 90 days of taking office (yes, we still have crime). Former Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., the man Melton defeated, was quieter, more methodical, and more focused on issues like development and infrastructure, and balancing the city’s budget. He sat back and allowed a professional police chief do the job of crime fighting—and presided over a steady drop in crime over his eight-year tenure.
In his campaign, Melton claimed that Johnson's administration doctored the crime statistics, but offered little in the way of evidence. It didn’t matter. Melton won the Democratic primary with 63 percent of the vote.
Since he came to Jackson from Tyler, Texas, to run WLBT-TV in 1984—leaving his wife and biological children behind—Melton had constructed a persona for himself as a tough-on-crime folk hero. He bought billboards where he plastered mugshots of accused drug dealers. Once a week, he’d end his TV station’s newscast with a “Bottom Line” rant, often focusing his ire on some public official who had challenged his vigilantism and do-it-yourself justice system (Melton, for example, has often allowed young men wanted for serious crimes to turn themselves in to him and stay at his home rather than bring them to the police).
Going all Buford Pusser on an occupied duplex might have been extreme, but it’s par for the course for Mayor Melton, whom no one will ever accuse of lacking for a sense of drama. Among our mayor’s greatest hits:
• He once stopped a school bus on a busy interstate because he “needed a hug” from the kids inside.
• He’s been known to strap weapons to his chest and leg that he has no authority to carry or conceal, then wear them in public.
• He regularly suits up and leads SWAT-style “raids” on homes, businesses, and even roadblocks in busy traffic—without cause or a warrant.
• He has tried to close down the city’s strip clubs for moral reasons, despite no authority to do so.
• He once bulldozed an elderly woman’s house, promising to build her a better one. He then forgot to build it.
• He recruited a team of kids to torch a row of dilapidated shotgun houses, without clearance or first turning off the utilities.
• He keeps a house full of young men, including minors and/or felons, without having the proper foster-parent credentials.
• He once hid two of those young men wanted for armed robbery from the district attorney and county sheriff, driving away with one of them in his car after deputies stopped them and tried to serve a warrant on the young man (who later assisted with the duplex demolition).