The Missouri Democrat who told MSNBC the riots of Ferguson and the tremors of racial outrage that spread nationwide from the Missouri community were “our race war” unleashed a Twitter tirade Jan. 3 that foreshadowed a stormy legislative session ahead for her white colleagues in the Missouri Legislature.
“LET ME BE CLEAR,” Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal tweeted. “When you exercise your #WhitePrivilege, don’t think I’m not going to remember. I will use it for the future. Uncomfortable?”
With that kind of outrage as its backdrop, the Missouri Legislature begins its 2015 work Jan 7. The 2014 riots in Ferguson that spread nationwide are expected to dominate January discussions and it is going to be hot.
What happened the day Michael Brown was shot to death by a Ferguson police officer and, more importantly, the grand jury decision that absolved the officer of any guilt, are expected to color every debate inside the Missouri State Capitol building.
Sen. Chappelle-Nadel, the minority whip of the Missouri Senate, has introduced legislation that she said is needed to “protect Missouri citizens from being abused by overzealous law enforcement.”
Her legislation would force all police officers to wear body cameras.
“Audio and video from cameras do not lie. Too often the police tell one story, while the people tell another. Cameras with both audio and video will assist in settling controversial disputes,” said Chappelle-Nadal.
However, police officers wearing body cameras in Missouri is only part of what the legislator, whose district includes the city of Ferguson, wants to change.
Chappelle-Nadal said she wants to help undo “systematic and institutional discrimination that began immediately after slavery ended,” something the senator said she experienced firsthand when she was tear-gassed by police in Ferguson.
“Police brutality is real, and causes emotional harm to citizens already experiencing social, economic and educational challenges,” said Chappelle-Nadal. “The lack of sensitivity and lack of cultural competency by some police officers and certain government officials has injured the community I represent beyond immediate repair.”
Her legislation also includes what Chappelle-Nadal described as citizen protections and officer professional standards:
• The bill scales back the current “use of deadly force” laws in Missouri, allowing officers to use deadly force only in instances where a suspect poses a clear danger to the officer or the public.
• If a police officer shoots an unarmed citizen, or a police officer kills an unarmed citizen by any other means, a special prosecutor will automatically be appointed.
• When law enforcement is deployed to a protest situation or a scene of civil unrest, all officers will be required to wear accurate and visible identification with their full names clearly displayed.
• Law enforcement officers shall not be allowed to “hog-tie” citizens or verbally degrade or make derogatory comments toward any peaceful protestors.
• If the governor declares a state of emergency due to civil unrest, the governor shall immediately reassign and mobilize a sufficient number of state social workers, counselors, and psychologists to the area.
• The deployment of tear gas shall not be allowed unless the governor has declared a state of emergency and a neutral third-party agency (such as Amnesty International) is on the scene to certify that the tear gas will be deployed in a humanitarian manner.
• If the governor declares a state of emergency due to civil unrest, the governor shall concurrently contract with a neutral third-party agency (such as Amnesty International) to immediately report any abuses of human, civil, and constitutional rights to the Missouri and United States attorney generals.
• All law enforcement agencies in Missouri must be accredited by July 1, 2016.
“This is the 21st century,” said Chappelle-Nadal. “Police training and tactics from the 1930s have become outdated. As society evolves, so too must our protectors.”
Chapelle-Nadal is not alone.
A fellow Democrat in the Missouri Legislature, Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, who tweeted out the question “Has the KKK infiltrated the police department?” and sat in the middle of a Ferguson street so that she could show other protesters how to be gracefully arrested, is backing legislation intended to reduce the number of traffic tickets African-Americans receive in Missouri.
“[Those police departments] bring in revenue on the backs of poor, indigent young men and women,” Nasheed told newsone.com “They create checkpoints, and you can’t make a U-turn. You have to go through the checkpoint. A lot of times you have young men and women who are extremely indigent and they may be driving without insurance.”
Rasheed’s solution is to eliminate the villages and designate them as part of the unincorporated county.
“That way the county manages the fines, the courts, and you don’t have a lot of checkpoints throughout the county,” she said.
Republicans have their own cards to play. But the GOP in the Missouri Legislature will focus on topics such as education and the economy.
“We won’t have a Ferguson agenda, but we will have legislation that gets to some of the societal and governmental problems in Ferguson and a number of communities,” Republican Sen. Tom Dempsey told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Dempsey has also led a bipartisan, joint House-Senate investigation into the way Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon responded to rioting that broke out in November, following the grand jury decision not to press charges against Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown.
The Joint Committee on Governmental Accountability held its first hearing in December.
“The leaders of Ferguson have continually said the governor has failed to communicate with them,” said Dempsey. “We will go into this investigation without any preconceived notions and let the testimony of those involved tell the story.”
The Joint Committee on Government Accountability was established in 2004 by state statute allowing the committee to look for inefficiencies and misconduct in state government.
However, this is the first time legislative leaders have felt the need for the committee to be empaneled.
GOP Sen. Kurt Schaefer was elected chairman, and said while these hearings are a good start, the investigation will take months.
“The issue has sparked not only statewide problems, but nationwide turmoil as well,” said Schaefer. “Clearly the events that unfolded in Ferguson have had a huge impact on the history of Missouri.”