JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Black Democratic lawmakers at the Missouri State Capitol are accusing the House Leadership of racism following debate on a bill last week.
Representatives were discussing a large crime package that would allow the governor to appoint a special prosecutor after a municipality has a certain number of homicide cases. The debate was then cut off, leaving many Black Democrats standing without getting a turn to speak.
“No justice, no peace,” the crowd outside the Capitol yelled Wednesday. “No justice, no peace.”
It’s a call to action. Rep. Marlene Terry, D-St. Louis, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, called Black leaders and community activists to Jefferson City on Wednesday after what she says was a racist move by House Leadership.
“Last week, the Republicans tried to silence the voices of St. Louis voters who reelected the first Black circuit attorney, the voice of representatives who wanted to defend her,” Terry said. “It’s time for our communities to be respected, it’s time for our bills to become laws.”
The bill causing tension originally targeted the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office but was later broadened to include more communities. House Bill 301 would allow the governor to appoint a special prosecutor if a municipality has 35 homicide cases in the last 12 months per 100,000 people.
“They want a special prosecutor, now initially they just wanted a special prosecutor in St. Louis, but they knew that was just way to blatant,” Rev. Darryl Gray, a civil activist from St. Louis said. “They say, well, we can’t go after Circuit Attorney [Kim] Gardner with a full-frontal attack; we have to kind of massage this a little bit. If we go after this prosecutor, this female Black prosecutor, then everybody will know we are racist.”
House Majority Floor Leader Jon Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, allowed members to debate the bill for three hours Wednesday before the vote was taken Thursday. When the discussion was cut off, several Black lawmakers from the St. Louis area were seen standing next to their microphones, waiting to speak.
“When I sense that things are going downhill and the discussion is not productive, I think it’s time to move on,” Patterson said.
In a statement released Wednesday, Patterson said the following:
Unfortunately, in a body of 163 members, we have to cut off debate at some point. Of course, race was not a factor in the decision to end debate on that bill. Nevertheless, I look forward to meeting with Rep. Terry and discussing how we can work together on future bills and have each member feel like they are a part of the process, regardless of their race.
Last week, Terry told reporters during a press conference the caucus was going to do a “call to action” after debate was stopped.
“I call it racist,” Terry said. “I think there’s a lot of racism going on here. Our gloves are off, we will stand on the floor, we will shout out. We are going backwards, and I’m very tired of it.”
Outside on the steps of the Capitol Wednesday, advocates were heard shouting, “Black votes matter, Black votes matter.”
Another original part of the bill would have criminalized minors from carrying firearms in public without adult supervision, but that was stripped out.
“Our voices do have merit,” Precious Barry, a senior at Riverview Gardens High School, said Wednesday. “I should be at school right now, but I’m here representing my voice, but the racism that we encounter in our system is not being heard.”
The House voted 109-35 to pass the legislation last Thursday. It’s now in the hands of the Senate, who has not said if and when the bill will be brought up for debate. Another piece of legislation, that was criticized during the rally, would place the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department under state control.
“You can look at the numbers when there was state control and numbers when it was local control,” Gray said. “They haven’t varied that much. If you really want to help St. Louis, instead of bringing in more police, try raising the police budget, bring in more resources. We don’t need a lot more police, we need a lot more social workers.”