The Arkansas State legislature held a committee hearing on a proposed bill gun rights bill, sponsored by Republicans Bill Ballinger, Senate Bill 484 proposed to eliminate the “duty to retreat” requirement in the state’s self defense language. It was yet another attempt to add what are known as “Stand your Ground” rules onto the book. Stand your Ground laws have been used as a legal defense for white people and law enforcement killing black people. The requirements under such laws is basically saying you felt afraid, and since law enforcement and white people are generally “afraid” of people of color, this lends itself to a lot of awful violence.
State Sens. Ballinger and Trent Garner (El Dorado) gave arguments to the committee in support of the Stand your Ground amendment. The Republican-controlled committee with Sen. Alan Clark as chair said they wanted to limit the amount of debate on the amendment, something that didn’t sit well with Democratic State Sen. Stephanie Flowers. Sen. Flowers, the sole African American member of the committee, asked for a chance to speak, and hit a most passionate and powerful note—using all the words to express her frustration with the implicit racism of the Stand your Ground laws.
I’ll be as quick as I can, as quick as it takes to kill somebody I guess. You want me to be that quick. … It doesn’t take much to look on the local news every night and see how many black kids, black boys, black men are being killed with these Stand Your Ground defenses that these people raise, and they get off. So I take issue with that. I’m the only person here of color. I am a mother, too. And I have a son. And I care as much for my son as y’all care for y’all’s. But my son doesn’t walk the same path as yours does. So this debate deserves more time.
I’m in Pine Bluff. We have killings regularly down there. … I don’t know where Mr. Ballinger is from. But I can tell you for a long time since I’ve been back here in Arkansas, I have feared for my son’s life. Now he’s 27 and he’s out of Arkansas, and I thank God he is when you’re bringing up crap like this. It offends me. And then to limit the debate, too? This is crazy.
You don’t have to worry about your children, Will [Sen. Will Bond]. I worry about my son. And I worry about other little black boys and girls.
And people coming in to my neighborhood and my city, saying they got open carry rights, walking in front of my doggone office in front of the courthouse. That’s a bully. Do I have a right to stand my ground, with some crazy-ass person walking around with a doggone gun? I don’t know what the hell he intends to do. But I know I am scared. I feel threatened. Just like some of y’all walking around here up in the legislature with these damn guns. That what’s his name, Garner, came in here, walking around here with a damn gun under his coat. You could see the damn imprint.
The chair, Sen. Clark attempts to interject here, leading to this intense exchange.
Sen. Clark: Senator you need to stop.
Sen. Flowers: No I don’t! No I don’t! What are you going to do? Shoot me?
Sen. Clark: Senator.
Sen. Flowers: Senator shit. I’m telling you, this deserves more attention! You want to come up here with all of these NRA bills, and bills that ALEC have and all that stuff. I’m talking about my son’s life! And I’m talking about the lives of other black kids! Go ahead and do what you’re gonna do. But you ain’t gonna silence me!
An important note I want to put in here as you read this is that it was at this point that Sen. Flowers got up and excused herself from the committee, going outside to take a break. I also want to end the suspense before you read what Sen. Flowers said when she came back, that the Republican-led committee voted 4-3, with Republican John Cooper joining the three democrats in voting down this amendment. When Sen. Flowers returned she pointed her anger at the bill’s big advocates, Sens Garner and Ballinger.
I think that this bill—at least for me—and because of who I am and what I look like, I would feel threatened. By anybody coming around. Especially you, Senator Ballinger. You are threatening to me and to my family.
Obviously you’re from a part of the state where you don’t see people of color so much. And some of the behaviors that I have, the expressions that I make, the way I express myself, probably would make you feel threatened. But it wasn’t intended that way. People from different cultures—particularly black people—people that I grow up around and I live around, and live around me, they feel threatened by a person like you walking into their community. Just like that man down there, Zimmerman, in Florida, felt about Trayvon. Walking in his daddy’s community, but that guy [Zimmerman] had never seen him…
Well, I’m not gonna take the time, when you come down to Pine Bluff to tell me that. But you can be assured that I’ll have my doggone gun there. And I’ll feel threatened. I wonder if I will be justified with a Stand Your Ground defense! Cause walking around with guns on your hip and under your coat—and you can see the imprint—is threatening. You don’t know the circumstances that people have gone through. We’ve got killings down there in Jefferson County all the time. And people feel threatened. And I don’t know where you come from with all this. Is your community so bad that you are planning to come down to Jefferson County with all this crap?
Sen. Garner, for his part, did seem to feel quite by the unarmed black woman calling him out. When asked by reporters for a statement, he said he wasn’t carrying a weapon as Sen. Flowers suggested but has a special permit that allows him to do so in the Capitol and “exercises that right when necessary.” Later on he tweeted this out.
Senator Flower’s baseless claim against me is completely false. Her behavior today is unacceptable and beneath the standard we hold ourselves to in the Senate. #arpx #arleg #ARNews #ARSenate pic.twitter.com/TmtmHuaurQ
— Trent Garner For Senate (@Garner4Senate) March 7, 2019
Sen. Garner was then roundly ratioed for his obtuseness, with responders applauding Sen. Flowers and her passion, while lambasting Garner for his cowardice and dismissive position. The Arkansas Democratic Party communications deputy responded with this.
Glad Sen. Ballinger clipped this video. Hope he rewatches it everyday. Whether he likes it or not, his actions are hurting people. And sometimes he can’t rely on decorum to protect him from real human emotion. Proud of Sen. Flowers for speaking truth in a hostile world. #arpx https://t.co/LIP6diOwUD
— Jacob Kauffman (@ArkansasJacob) March 7, 2019
You can watch Sen. Flowers below the fold.