With a slogan of "Help is on the way," Frank Melton was elected mayor of Jackson, Miss., three years ago. His platform concentrated on two big issues: reducing crime and improving infrastructure.
In his efforts to bring about civic improvement, Melton chose an unusual and highly controversial approach. He personally led strike forces into Jackson residents' homes
Earlier this week, Melton, along with two of his bodyguards, were indicted on federal civil rights charges for one of his more infamous forays into an alleged crack house where he and a posse of supporters used sledgehammers on an apartment he deemed worthy of destruction. Melton has already been tried - - and acquitted - - on state charges for the incident.
Donna Ladd, editor-in-chief of the Jackson Free Press, says Melton and his lawyers managed to set the agenda of the first trial. "It became a referendum on whether Frank was trying to save the inner city," she says.
"I was the first reporter to go out in his 'mobile command center,' as it's called," she says. Ladd accompanied him as he rode in a van filled with young supporters and barged in on private homes in the middle of the night. The mayor himself, she says, referred to the surprise visits as "midnight raids." She says he would knock on doors, accompanied by police brandishing submachine guns, conduct searches and lecture residents — all without search warrants.
"He really seems to believe that he's above the law," Ladd says.
The mayor appears ready to continue fighting.
"I'm not going to have drugs sold with impunity in neighborhoods where senior citizens have worked all their lives and children play. I'm not going to allow them to be exposed to 24-hour drug-selling out of a house in the neighborhood," Melton told The Associated Press on Thursday.