JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – “Where is the justice?”
That is the question members of a civil rights coalition are asking as they continue to plead with Missouri’s governor to veto a controversial bill.
Roughly three dozen people showed up to the Capitol on Tuesday morning, once again calling on Gov. Eric Greitens to veto Senate Bill 43, a bill passed by state lawmakers this year that would make it more difficult to sue for housing or employment discrimination in the Show-Me State.
The state NAACP has strongly criticized the legislation, and continued to do so again in their press conference Tuesday, saying the bill would make it harder to hold people accountable for harassment and discrimination against minorities, not just through race, but also gender, faith, and the disabled.
“SB 43 legalizes discrimination and makes civil rights in Missouri harder to protect and defend, and in fact, it makes this a reality, a reality that we sought to get away from a long time ago,” Rod Chapel, the president of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP, said. “One senator said we’re going back to 1961, and this is 2017. The good people of Missouri want more from our legislators, they want more from our government, and most importantly, we want communication and the opportunity to be heard.”
“I’ve been discriminated against all of my life,” Rev. Wallace Hartsfield, Sr. of Kansas City said. “We need you as a people, as a state, to help us fight this kind of law. It closes one of the gates that protect working people from discrimination on the job. This bill makes it easy to discriminate, and those in a protected class would no longer have any protection. We can’t afford to take Missouri’s civil rights back to 1961. I’m almost 90, and I do not want to live through this tragedy twice. I will hope, and I will pray, that things will get better in our state. We have to take a stand.”
“We don’t have peace unless we have wholeness unless we have a complete community in a state where every voice is heard, where every person has dignity, where every person is treated with justice and respect,” Rabbi Doug Alpert of Kansas City said. “So I ask the governor today to not listen to the voices of hate, the voices of bigotry, and the voices of a fractured state, but instead to speak to the voices of wholeness, healing and the voices for a complete society. And the way to do that is to veto SB 43.”
SB 43 currently sits on the desk of the governor, waiting for his action, though Greitens has not given any indication at this time of just what he intends to do with it.
Pat Rowe Kerr, a longtime Missouri veterans’ advocate and friend of Greitens, is also calling on the governor to veto the legislation, even going so far as to openly write a letter to Greitens and post it to his Facebook page.
The conference comes just a day after the news broke that the Missouri NAACP had issued a travel advisory, warning travelers to be careful when in Missouri, saying there is a history of discrimination and civil right violations to be concerned about.
The clock continues ticking down on the deadline for signing bills into law, as Greitens has until mid-July to sign or veto legislation.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.