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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