Race, guns, and the Arkansas legislature | Arkansas Blog

Race, guns, and the Arkansas legislature

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Lots of chatter among Capitol critters about Sen. Stephanie Flowers' fiery speeches during yesterday's debate over a proposed "Stand Your Ground" law, which failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday evening. The D-G posted some video excerpts of Flowers — see above.

Two Republican senators — Trent Garner and Bob Ballinger — have expressed complaints about Flowers' comments on social media, though Ballinger added that he loved Flowers and hurt for her.

Flowers is the only black member of the committee. She gave an impassioned speech about her fears for her son and the impact of gun violence on people in her community. She argued that the personal stakes of the law they were discussing were different for people of color, and the committee was failing to acknowledge that. Her comments were peppered with expletives. Overcome with emotion, she repeatedly shouted that she would not be silenced.

She told Ballinger himself that he represented a threat to her and her family, and said that Garner appeared to be carrying a gun when he testified (Garner told the D-G this wasn't so, but said he had an enhanced concealed-carry permit allowing him to carry at the Capitol and said he "exercises that right when necessary").

The fireworks began when members of the committee voted to limit debate time. Flowers responded:



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.

Flowers continued:

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. 

At that point, Sen. Alan Clark, the chairman, quietly told her she needed to stop. "No I don't," Flowers responded. "What the hell you gonna do, shoot me?"

"Senator," said Clark.

"Senator, shit," responded Flowers.

"I'm telling you, this deserves more attention," she said. "You want to come up here with all these NRA bills and all these bills that ALEC has. I'm talking about my son's life! And I'm talking about the lives of other black kids!"

"Do what the hell you wanna do," Flowers told Clark. "Go ahead! But you can't silence me. You got your damn silence gun bill out the damn chamber today, but you are not gonna silence me."

When Clark told her she was out of order, she responded: "And so what are you going to do about it? I am upset. ... I got a right, I'm an elected officer just like you." She then walked out of the committee room briefly before returning to hear further testimony.

Clark told the committee, "Sen. Flowers is a friend. She was out of order and there was no reason for that behavior."

Things became heated again about half an hour later when Flowers directly addressed Ballinger during discussion of the bill:

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, Sen. 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.
Garner responded on social media:

And Ballinger:

One citizen's response to Ballinger's query: "You listen to her."

Another response, from Jacob Kauffman, deputy communications director for the state Democratic Party:

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