Missouri House approves crime bill citing racism by black lawmakers

Missouri House approves crime bill citing racism by black lawmakers.

Mississippi’s racial tensions were echoed in Missouri on Thursday as Black Democratic lawmakers accused Republican House leadership of racism for shutting off a Black lawmaker’s speech and passing legislation that could remove power from the Black woman elected to be St. Louis’ prosecutor.

The Missouri House discord came days after another similar situation in Mississippi, in which Black legislators denounced the majority-white, Republican led Legislature for voting to seize power from the local leaders in Jackson, a predominantly Black city.

Missouri Republicans made anti-crime legislation their priority during this session. They often highlighted high crime rates in St. Louis to get the attention of lawmakers. The House approved legislation that would give the Republican governor power by a vote of 109 to 35. Mike Parson will appoint a special prosecution to deal with violent crimes in areas where there are high homicide rates like St. Louis. The bill would also increase mandatory minimum sentences for persistent felonies, among other things.

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A Black Democrat from St. Louis County State Rep. Kevin Windham was aloud a news story about Mississippi during the House debate. White Republican lawmakers objected to his speech because it had nothing to do with the Missouri legislation.

Dean Plocher, House Speaker, declared Windham out-of-order and halted his speech. Windham’s microphone had to be turned off. Jon Patterson, the House Majority Leader, made a motion to end the debate on the bill. The Republican majority voted for it. Other Black Democrats were left standing and did not get a chance to speak.

Black lawmakers were outraged.

After the debate, Rep. Marlene Terry (a St. Louis County Democrat and chair of the Missouri Black Legislative Caucus) stated that it was racist not to allow him to speak.

Terry stated that she was calling for Black leaders and community activists to visit the Capitol.

Terry stated, “From now on it’s not more peaceful – no more peaceful. It’s going to become action.” “We are going to let them hear that we are listening.”

The Rev. The Rev. Darryl Gray, a St. Louis pastor who is also a prominent racial justice activist, posted an appeal on Facebook urging people to march at the Capitol next Wednesday against “state control and white suppression”.

Patterson claimed that he was responsible for stopping the debate and that the conversation “devolved and could have gotten worse.”

Patterson said to The Associated Press, “I don’t discount any experiences that our Black legislators have had, nor the white lawmakers.” I can assure you that this did not influence my decision to vote for the bill.

Two separate votes in Mississippi sparked tensions Tuesday. Two separate votes by the Mississippi Senate were used to establish a regional board that would eventually take over control of Jackson’s water system. Currently, it is overseen federally. The House then voted to create a new court for Jackson, with judges who would not be elected but rather appointed.

John Horhn, Democratic Mississippi State Senator, stated during a Legislative Black Caucus press conference that these actions “amounts to a symbolic death of Black elected leaders.”

Missouri House approves crime bill citing racism by black lawmakers

The Missouri debate on Thursday was brief. The House had spent many hours amending and debating the bill over the previous day. The final vote was not based solely on racial lines. A suburban St. Louis-based Black Republican lawmaker and two Kansas City Black Democratic legislators voted for the bill. Democratic Rep. Mark Sharp was one of those who voted for a provision that made it a crime to discharge firearms in a city limit.

Plocher stated that passage of the bill, which now goes to the Republican-led Senate, was an exciting step.

Plocher stated that “We are beginning a process for improving Missourians’ lives through cracking down crime.”

Kim Gardner, St. Louis Circuit Attorney, issued a statement in which she called the legislation “a political stunt.”

Zaki Baruti of the St. Louis-based Universal African People’s Organization described Gardner’s attempt to remove power as “a move against Democracy.”

Gardner was the first and only Black Circuit Attorney elected in St. Louis. She has also pursued a progressive agenda. Gardner stopped prosecuting marijuana-related crimes at low levels and favors directing first-time offenders to community programs over jail. She also created an “exclusion” list of several dozen police officers that are not permitted to bring cases to her office. This was partly due to concerns about racial bias.

Baruti stated that “She represents the hopes, aspirations, of the Black community.” Baruti added, “Clearly, this is an attack, and not only happening here in St. Louis, but all across America. When Black people seize power and take actions that some lawmakers don’t like, they are under immense attack.”


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