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World News | Black lawmakers cite racism as Missouri House approves crime bill

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Jefferson City, Feb 10 (AP) Racial tensions in Mississippi echoed in Missouri Thursday, as Black Democratic lawmakers accused the state’s Republican House leadership of racism for shutting down a Black lawmaker’s speech and passing a bill that could strip powerman from the elected Black woas Prosecutors in St. Louis.

The feud in Missouri’s House of Representatives comes days after a similar situation in Mississippi, where black lawmakers denounced the white-majority, Republican-led legislature for voting to take power away from local leaders in the predominantly black city of Jackson.

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Like Mississippi, Missouri’s legislature is dominated by white Republicans. Mostly black lawmakers represent St. Louis and Kansas City, the state’s two largest urban areas.

Missouri Republicans have made anti-crime legislation a priority this session and have often highlighted St. Louis’ high crime rate as a driving factor. The House of Representatives voted 109 to 35 to pass legislation allowing Republican Gov. Mike Parson to appoint a special prosecutor to deal with violent crime in areas with high homicide rates, such as St. Louis. Among other things, the bill would expand mandatory minimum sentences for felons.

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State Rep. Kevin Windham, a black Democrat from St. Louis County, read aloud a news article about the situation in Mississippi during a House debate when some white Republican lawmakers objected that his speech had nothing to do with Missouri legislation.

House Speaker Dean Plocher ruled the Windham meeting was disorderly and suspended his speech. Windham’s microphone was turned off. House Majority Leader Jon Patterson then introduced a motion to halt debate on the bill, which the Republican majority voted in favor of — leaving other Black Democrats standing without a chance to speak.

Black lawmakers were outraged.

“Not allowing him to speak is racist,” Rep. Malin Terry, a St. Louis County Democrat who chairs the Missouri Black Legislative Caucus, told reporters after the debate.

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

“From now on, there will be no more peace — no more peace — it will be action,” Terry said. “We will let them know we are here to be heard.”

Patterson defended his role in stopping the debate, saying “the conversation is shifting and could get worse.”

“I’m not going to underestimate any of the experiences of our black legislators or our white legislators,” Patterson told The Associated Press. “I can assure you – it didn’t affect my decision that it was time to vote on this bill.”

In Mississippi, tensions were stoked by two separate votes on Tuesday. The Mississippi state Senate voted to create a district commission to finally take control of Jackson’s struggling water system, which is now overseen by a federally appointed administrator. The House then voted to create a new court in parts of Jackson, with judges to be appointed rather than elected.

Democratic Mississippi state Sen. John Horhn said during a Legislative Black Caucus news conference that the actions “amount to a symbolic decapitation of Black elected leadership.”

Thursday’s debate in Missouri was relatively brief. But the House spent hours debating and amending the bill the previous day. The final vote didn’t quite fall along racial lines. Among those who voted for the bill were a black Republican from suburban St. Louis and two black Democrats from Kansas City.

That includes Democratic Rep. Mark Sharp, who supports a provision in the bill that would make it a crime to fire a firearm for criminal negligence within city limits.

The passage of the bill — which will now go to the Republican-led Senate — is an exciting step, Plocher said.

“We are beginning the process of improving the lives of Missourians by fighting crime,” Plocher said.

A statement from the office of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner called the legislation a “political stunt.”

The Rev. Darryl Gray, a St. Louis pastor and leading racial justice activist, said he and other activists “are discussing ways to challenge that. We’re taking civil disobedience seriously in Jefferson City.”

Zaki Baruti, head of the St. Louis-based World African Peoples Organization, described the effort to strip Gardner of power as an “anti-democratic move.”

Gardner was the first and only black circuit attorney elected in St. Louis, and she followed a progressive agenda. She stopped prosecuting low-level marijuana crimes, favored diverting first-time, nonviolent offenders to community programs rather than prisons, and instituted an “exclusion list” of dozens who weren’t allowed to bring cases to her office police, based in part on concerns about potential racial bias among those officers.

“She represents the hopes and aspirations of the black community,” Baruti said. He added: “Obviously, this is an attack, not just here in St. Louis, but across America, when black people take key positions of power and take actions that some lawmakers don’t think they can agree to .” (Associated Press)

(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)


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