Republicans voted Thursday to ban diversity spending in the Missouri government, a state known internationally for racial justice protests at Ferguson and the University of Missouri.
Democratic state assemblyman David Tyson Smith, who represents the city where the University of Missouri’s flagship campus is located, warned of the risk of civil unrest if lawmakers “do not curb this division.”
“Obviously I’m not advocating violence. I don’t condone any of that. But we’re going to reach a point in our country where we can’t go back,” Smith told colleagues inside the House.
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Smith represents the college city of Columbia, home of the University of Missouri’s flagship campus. In 2015, protests against racial justice at the school – including a hunger strike and threats by the football team not to play – led to the resignation of the president of the university system and the transfer of its principal.
The year before, Michael Brown, a black teenager, was fatally shot by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri, St. Louis County, sparking months of sometimes violent protests. Although the officer was not charged, investigations showed black drivers in the area were more likely to be stopped for traffic stops and harassed by debilitating fines and court fees.
State legislators voted largely along party lines on Thursday for a proposed $45 billion state budget that will increase funding for employees, providers, consultants and programs “connected to diversity, equity (and) inclusion.” blocked across state government and at public colleges and universities.
The bans also apply to initiatives that promote “collective guilt,” “the concept that inequalities are inevitably linked to oppression,” and “intersectional or divisive identity activism,” among other things.
Proponents of the spending restrictions are facing a brick wall in the GOP-led Senate, where the powerful Appropriations Committee chairman has said he plans to remove the language from the budget.
Rep. Doug Richey has led the push to ban diversity spending. He and other Republicans argued that modern concepts of diversity, justice, and inclusion are Marxist and that talking about race is racist and divisive.
Democrats condemned Richey’s efforts to limit diversity spending as racist and warned that including the ban in the state budget would jeopardize Missouri’s funding for Medicaid’s federal health insurance program.
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Richey said equality has existed since the passing of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.
“I envision a day when we celebrate what we have always been known for in Western civilization,” Richey said, “and that is: we respect the freedom and dignity of each and every individual.”
Rep. Raychel Proudie, a Ferguson Democrat, called Richey’s comments a “colonization” of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. She said the effort to “justify racism is mind-boggling” and described how a racial slur often assails her.
“Imagine what it’s like to be called that over and over again,” Proudie said. “It hurts.”
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The budget now goes to the Senate for review. Lawmakers face a May 5 deadline to pass a budget.
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