One black lawmaker refused to retreat when her white, male colleagues moved to cut off debate on a bill that would let Arkansas residents use lethal force as the first line of self-defense if they felt threatened.
After her deeply personal tirade against so-called “stand your ground” propositions, the bill was defeated. Now, video of the comments, which allude to racial tensions simmering far beyond Little Rock, has gone viral.
“I’m the only person here of color, OK. I am a mother, too, and I have a son, and I care as much for my son as y’all care for y’alls, but my son doesn’t walk the same path as yours does,” state Sen. Stephanie Flowers, a Democrat, said Wednesday during debate in the GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee. “So, this debate deserves more time.”
“For a long time since I’ve been back here in Arkansas, I have feared for my son’s life,” she said, according to official video of the meeting. “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.”
Flowers, the panel’s vice chair, demanded the floor after some senators tried to curb debate time on a bill that would ditch the “duty to retreat” clause in state law. It obligates people who feel threatened to try to escape the situation before using force.
The critical change, which some law enforcement leaders in Arkansas oppose, would align with “stand your ground” laws in at least 25 states where there is no duty to retreat an attacker in any place someone has a legal right to be, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
’You can’t silence me’
Such measures have come under scrutiny nationwide, particularly after a July shooting in Florida. A sheriff there said “stand your ground” laws prevented him from arresting Michael Drejka, who is white, after he fatally shot Markeis McGlockton, who was black, over a parking spot. The local prosecutor later charged Drejka with manslaughter; Drejka has said he shot McGlockton in self-defense.
“It doesn’t take much to look at 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,” Flowers told her fellow lawmakers Wednesday.
Substantial racial disparities exist in the application of “stand your ground” laws, experts have found. Defendants in Florida were nearly twice as likely to be convicted in a case involving white victims than in cases with victims of color, according to a 2015 study in Social Science & Medicine. Nationwide, the rate of justifiable homicide was 34% in cases in which the shooter was white and the victim was black, compared with only 3% in cases with a black shooter and a white victim, the Urban Institute found in 2012.
As Flowers spoke, Republican state Sen. Alan Clark, the committee’s chairman, at one point interrupted her, saying, “Senator, you need to stop.”
“No, I don’t,” Flowers responded.
“Yes, you do,” Clark insisted.
“No, I don’t. What the hell you going to do, shoot me?” she asked, adding moments later, “Do what the hell you want to do, go ahead, but you can’t silence me.”
“Sen. Flowers, if anybody hasn’t tried to silence you, it’s me,” Clark replied.
After public testimony on the matter, the bill – which was opposed by state police, the Arkansas Sheriff’s Association and Arkansas Moms Demand – then failed by one vote, though its sponsor hopes to bring it back up Monday, CNN affiliate KARK reported.
CNN’s Dakin Andone and Elizabeth Elkin contributed to this report.