Black lawmakers cite racism as Missouri House crime bill

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Racial tensions in Mississippi echoed in Missouri on Thursday when black Democratic lawmakers accused the state’s Republican House leadership of racism for shutting down a lawmaker’s speech black and passed a law that the chosen black woman could strip power as a prosecutor in St. Louis.

The Missouri House discord came just days after a similar situation in Mississippi, where black lawmakers denounced the white-majority Republican-led legislature for voting to strip power from local leaders in the predominantly black city of Jackson.

As in Mississippi, the Missouri legislature has a predominantly white Republican majority. Most black lawmakers represent the state’s two largest urban areas, St. Louis and Kansas City.

Missouri Republicans have made tough-on-crime legislation a priority this session, often citing high crime rates in St. Louis as a stumbling block. The House of Representatives passed legislation by a vote of 109 to 35 that would allow Republican Gov. Mike Parson to appoint a special prosecutor to deal with violent crimes in high homicide rate areas like St. Louis. Among other things, the bill would also expand mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders.

State Rep. Kevin Windham, a black Democrat from St. Louis County, read a news article about the situation in Mississippi during the House debate, when some white Republican lawmakers objected that his speech hadn’t nothing to do with the Missouri legislature.

House Speaker Dean Plocher ruled Windham out of order and cut off his speech. Windham’s microphone was off. House Majority Leader Jon Patterson then tabled a motion to cut off debate on the bill, which the Republican majority had voted for – leaving other black Democrats speechless.

Black lawmakers were outraged.

“It’s racist not to let him do the talking,” Rep. Marlene Terry, a St. Louis County Democrat who chairs the Missouri Black Legislative Caucus, told reporters after the debate.

Terry said she calls on black leaders and community activists to come to the Capitol.

“From now on there is nothing more peaceful – more peace – there will be action,” said Terry. “We’ll let them know we’re here to be heard.”

Patterson defended his role in stopping the debate, saying “the conversation has evolved and possibly gotten worse.”

“I’m not talking about any of the experiences that our black lawmakers have had or that white lawmakers have had,” Patterson told The Associated Press. “I can guarantee it played no part in my decision that it was time to vote on the bill.”

In Mississippi, tensions were fueled by two separate votes on Tuesday. The Mississippi Senate voted to create a regional committee to eventually take control of Jackson’s troubled water system, which is now overseen by a federally appointed administrator. Then the House of Representatives voted to create a new court in part of Jackson with judges who would be appointed rather than elected.

Mississippi Democratic Senator John Horhn told a Legislative Black Caucus briefing that the actions “amount to a symbolic beheading of elected black leaders.”

The Missouri debate on Thursday was relatively brief. But the House had spent several hours debating and amending the bill the day before. The final vote was not based solely on racial considerations. Among those who voted for the bill were a black Republican lawmaker from suburban St. Louis and two black Democratic lawmakers from Kansas City. These included Democratic Rep. Mark Sharp, who backed a provision in the bill that would make it a crime to shoot a firearm with criminal negligence within city limits.

Plocher said passing the bill, which now goes to the Republican-led Senate, was an exciting move.

“We are beginning a process to improve the lives of people in Missouri by fighting crime,” Plocher said.

St. Louis District Attorney Kim Gardner’s office released a statement in which he called the legislation a “political stunt.”

Reverend Darryl Gray, a St. Louis pastor and leading racial justice activist, said he and other activists are “discussing ways to challenge this. We are seriously considering civil disobedience in Jefferson City.

Zaki Baruti, president of the St. Louis-based Universal African People’s Organization, described the effort to oust Gardner from power as “a step against democracy.”

Gardner is the first and only black district attorney to be elected in St. Louis, and she has pursued a progressive agenda. She stopped prosecuting low-level marijuana-related crimes, preferring to redirect non-violent first-time offenders to community programs rather than jail, and created a ‘do-not-list’ of dozens of police officers. who are not allowed to take business in it to take office. in part over concerns about possible racial bias among these officers.

“She represents the hopes and aspirations of the black community,” Baruti said. He added, “This is clearly an attack that is happening not just here in St. Louis, but across America, where black people hold key positions of power and carry out actions that some lawmakers believe are wrong. not be able to accept. , they perish powerfully attacked.


Associated Press writer Jim Salter contributed from St. Louis.

David A. Lieb, Associated Press


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Bill increasing penalties for riots in North Carolina clarified

RALEIGH, North Carolina (AP) — A bill that would increase penalties for violent protests following the 2020 protests over the killing of George Floyd passed the North Carolina House on Wednesday despite harsh criticism from advocates for social justice. Some bipartisan support signals a possible veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who two years ago issued a veto blocking similar legislation.

Like the 2021 proposal, the new bill was cited by Republican House Speaker Tim Moore, who saw the riots and looting he saw firsthand in downtown Raleigh in June 2020 amid otherwise peaceful protests as the push for the legislation drove.

The bill, which has a House Democrat as its lead sponsor, left the chamber 75-43 with six Democrats and all Republicans present voting yes. Now he goes to the Senate.

Republican gains in the House and Senate since last November’s election now give the GOP a non-veto majority in the Senate and put it in a seat of a similar majority in the House.

State law already makes it an offense to willfully participate in a riot or incite a riot. It becomes a felony if the serious injury or property damage caused exceeds $1,500, with a first offense resulting in active jail time. Penalties for these crimes would increase under the legislation, including a new crime where participating in a riot results in death.

The measure also allows owners whose businesses have been damaged during a riot to seek compensation against a perpetrator for triple the monetary damages. And new rules for bail and preliminary hearings for rioting and looting defendants would give the judge 24 hours to set those terms. Supporters of the bill have complained that otherwise the defendants could be immediately freed by a judge.

Moore and other supporters insist they wholeheartedly support free speech and the First Amendment right to gather to air grievances. But the spokesman said he did not want that right to be misinterpreted and twisted to condone destruction.

“Our current laws…were not strict enough to ensure that those who engage in the most violent and destructive behavior would ever see the inside of a prison cell,” Moore said during the parliamentary debate on the bill. bill, which was considered by two committees earlier in the day. “Today is an opportunity to say that we will stand up and support security.”

Several advocacy groups, whose members frequently attend social justice protests, called the proposal an attack on the Black Lives Matter movement and an attempt to discourage minorities and low-income residents from speaking out.

“This overbroad and still problematic bill is not intended to protect the peace,” Melissa Price Kromm, North Carolina’s director of voters for clean elections, told a judiciary committee on Wednesday. “It’s about silencing dissent.”

Tyler Daye of North Carolina said the law, if enacted, could be used to punish viewers or speakers whose lyrics inadvertently incite violence.

“If there is a riot, innocent and peaceful protesters could be mixed up with intruders who have come to hijack their embassy,” Daye said.

According to the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law, nine states have passed similar protest laws since June 2020. North Carolina is one of 10 states currently considering new penalties.

In his message to veto the 2021 bill, Cooper said the legislation was “unnecessary and designed to intimidate and discourage people from exercising their constitutional rights to protest peacefully.”

Many House Democrats made similar arguments on Wednesday, even after floor changes were approved to raise the property damage threshold to $2,500 and reduce potential jail time before a judge returns bail. of $48 included in the hours fixed by the initial invoice.

Rep. Amos Quick, a Democrat from Guilford County, said the way to prevent violence is for authorities to respond quickly to wrongdoing. He said the swift crackdown by police in Memphis, Tenn., on the fatal beating of Tire Nichols last month discouraged nationwide unrest.

“I am against riots. I’m against criminal damage, but I’m for justice,” Quick said. “This law does not advance justice by increasing penalties.”

Democratic Rep. Abe Jones, a former Wake County judge who backed the bill, said there was no excuse for someone using a peaceful protest to cause chaos.

“I despise someone who goes out and tears up someone else’s property that they haven’t paid for and takes advantage of a situation – sometimes a really good protest – and then knocks it down,” said Jones, who , like Quick, is black. .

Gary D. Robertson and Hannah Schoenbaum, Associated Press


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