Activists rally behind Missouri lawmaker cut off in debate

(AP Photo/David A. Lieb)
(AP Photo/David A. Lieb)(David A. Lieb | AP)
Published: Feb. 15, 2023 at 4:01 PM CST
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri faith leaders, activists and elected officials on Wednesday decried the Republican-led House for shutting down a Black lawmaker’s speech and passing a bill that could strip power from the Black woman elected as St. Louis prosecutor.

“You may have silenced our representatives for a minute,” the Rev. Darryl Gray told dozens of fellow racial justice activists during a rally outside the Capitol. “But what you ended up doing (is) you forced our voice to get louder. You forced us to show up.”

The House last week passed legislation to allow Republican Gov. Mike Parson to appoint a special prosecutor to handle violent crimes in areas with high homicide rates, such as St. Louis. The bill is part of a Republican push for anti-crime legislation this session.

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

House Speaker Dean Plocher ruled Windham out of order, halting his speech. Windham’s microphone was turned off. House Majority Leader Jon Patterson then made a motion to shut off debate on the bill, which the Republican majority voted to do — leaving other Black Democrats standing without having a turn to speak.

Patterson last week defended his role in halting the debate, saying the “conversation was devolving” and that race “did not play a role in me deciding that it was time to have a vote on the bill.”

The office of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner issued a statement calling the legislation “a political stunt.”

The discord in the Missouri House came just days after a similar upset in Mississippi, where Black lawmakers denounced the majority-white, Republican-led Legislature for voting to take power away from local leaders in the predominantly Black city of Jackson.

Like in Mississippi, Missouri’s legislature has a largely white Republican majority. Most of the Black lawmakers represent the state’s two largest urban areas of St. Louis and Kansas City.

At the time of the rally, many lawmakers had already left the Capitol to go to Kansas City to celebrate the Chiefs’ second Super Bowl championship in four NFL seasons.

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