Blacklash: Missouri State Legislature Responds to Ferguson Uprising

Protesters square off against police in Ferguson, Missouri, on November 29, 2014. (Photo: Mike Tigas)Protesters square off against police in Ferguson, Missouri, on November 29, 2014. (Photo: Mike Tigas)

Your lives don‘t matter. This was the implicit anthem of conservative lawmakers in the Missouri state house throughout this year’s legislative session. Through attempts to limit Black women’s ability to decide how, if and when to conceive; by advancing the same dangerous policy that claimed the lives of Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride; and by attacking the vote and the voice of Black Missourians, legislators pioneered an agenda aimed to codify a status quo of racial hierarchy — white property and political power reigning supreme.

Stand Your Ground does not protect Black people; it protects white property and criminalizes Black people.

At the beginning of the 2016 Missouri state legislative session, Rep. Mike Moon sponsored a bill titled the “All Lives Matter Act” in an attempt to hijack the Ferguson Uprising’s “Black Lives Matter” affirmation. HB 1794 aimed to change the definition of an unborn child to include life beginning at conception, effectively eliminating abortion access throughout the state and criminalizing the use of IUDs, in vitro fertilization and the morning after pill. Through this bill, Rep. Moon was responding to the defiance of Black women who led many protests in Ferguson, centering their bodies as a site to limit the autonomy of all Missouri women.

Moon’s thinly veiled repudiation of the reemerging Black Liberation Struggle is just one of several bills marking a legislative session aimed at fighting efforts to build Black political power and self-determination.

The bills advanced during this year’s Missouri legislative cycle are reactionary repudiations of a growing, powerful movement.

State Sen. Kurt Schaefer worked diligently during this legislative session to ensure that both Stand Your Ground and anti-choice legislation pass through the Missouri legislature. Sen. Schaefer successfully advanced an amendment that would allow a person to use deadly force on a trespasser of personal property if they “reasonably believe such force to be necessary to protect himself.” Nationally, the dangers of Stand Your Ground have been revealed through the murders of Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and the criminalization of Marissa Alexander. Stand Your Ground does not protect Black people; it protects white property and criminalizes Black people. The movement of Stand Your Ground legislation in Missouri is a repressive response by those in power to marginalize Black people and undermine the growing efforts to affirm Black lives and build Black power.

The Missouri legislature has made further efforts to repress Black political power by taking direct aim at the right to vote. To close out the legislative session, they passed a photo ID requirement, known as HB 1631, and a ballot resolution, HJR 53, which will undercut the state’s constitutional right to vote if passed by voters in November — a necessary step for the ID provision to go into effect. Sponsored by Rep. Alferman, the photo ID law hinders movement towards creating a more just and fair democracy by requiring Missouri voters to have state issued photo IDs at the polls. The law has the potential to disenfranchise over 200,000 Missouri voters who lack the required ID — primarily elderly voters, students, poor voters and voters of color. Historically, voter suppression has been used as a tactic to sustain white control over the political process; now, voter ID has resuscitating the spirit of Jim Crow repression.

From anti-choice to anti-democratic measures, the bills advanced during this year’s Missouri legislative cycle are reactionary repudiations of a growing, powerful movement. In the past two years, Missouri has been a significant site of resistance in the resurgence of a new iteration of the Black Liberation Struggle — the Movement for Black Lives. In Saint Louis, the impacts of the hyper-militaristic state response to the murder of Michael Brown are still being dealt with, while community groups such as The Ferguson Collaborative, Sistahs Talkin Back, Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression, and DecarcerateSTL contend for real local power. In Kansas City, the Fight for 15 thrives and groups such as OneStruggleKC are disrupting the normalcy of white supremacy through direct action. At Mizzou, #ConcernedStudent1950 activists spurred a national, youth-led movement rooted in the experiences of Black students at institutions of higher education. Missouri has propelled the Black Liberation Struggle forward, and it is urgent that we call out the racism embedded in the state legislature’s response.

This year, the Missouri legislature aimed to reprimand the Black women who continue to lead resistance efforts on the streets of Ferguson by asserting what decisions we can and cannot make for own bodies. They advanced dangerous laws that threaten our lives and our votes. They aimed to limit funding for the entire University of Missouri system in response to students rising up. This legislative session, they have tried to silence us, control us and demean us.

They can’t. They won’t.

Black Missourians have transformed the way Black people dream of and fight for freedom. The response of those in power has been to escalate efforts to diminish our power. But the fires of Ferguson still burn, and no GOP-dominated capitol building has what it takes to put them out.