Racism has once again reared its ugly head, this time in the words of Rep. Warren Love and his subsequent refusal to abide by the recommendation of the House Ethics Committee to reprimand him and strip him of committee assignments. His overtly racist words are not the subtle racism that sneaks its way into nearly every aspect of our society. Instead, they evoke the Jim Crow era of terror and intimidation when hooded riders burned crosses in the dark of night, and black men were left hanging from trees in a stark message to African-Americans to stay in their place.
Lynchings were a dark part of the history of this country, including Missouri, but one I thought was firmly in the past. Hearing Love's words was a stomach lurching moment for me; I cannot even fathom what those in our African-American community must have felt.
Whether Love was talking about lynching or "cowboy" justice of some kind is irrelevant. He's still talking about some kind of vigilante "justice" in which the punishment far outweighs the crime. Again, remember Jim Crow, a time in which a young Emmett Till, a child really, could be killed and beaten almost beyond recognition for the "crime" of looking at or talking to a white woman.
Love's words were unbelievably offensive, but the real problem is the underlying attitude that infuses those words. The House Ethics Committee narrowly voted to strip Love of his committees, but he is defying that ruling. House Speaker Todd Richardson has the authority and power to enforce the committee's decision. He has the opportunity to say the Missouri Legislature will not tolerate racist words or racist attitudes in our state Capitol or from our elected representatives. I hope he has the courage to say there are moral issues more important than partisan politics. I'm asking him to refuse to allow racism to become normalized in our politics, to take the higher ground and stand for the people, all the people, of Missouri.