A few minutes ago, Virginia Delegates Luke Torian, Delores McQuinn and Lamont Bagby responded to what happened this past Friday in the Virginia House of Delegates. In a debate on how to stem gun violence, several Virginia House Republicans attempted to blame everything but guns, with Del. Nick Freitas specifically citing what he called “broken homes,” “various cultural changes that happened in the 60s [including] the abortion industry,” “the welfare state,” “dismantling families as [they] became more and more dependent on the government.” Not surprisingly – and for VERY good reason – many of us heard those words as, at the minimum, racial “dog whistles” that all of us could hear loud and clear.
So this morning, three African-American Virginia Delegates – Luke Torian, Delores McQuinn and Lamont Bagby spoke about how what Freitas and others had to say made them feel. Del. Torian choked up as he talked about his love for the Virginia House of Delegates, but also about how the language used on Friday by Republicans “conjure[d] up wounds and hurts that we revisit…” Del. McQuinn said we should talk about the “insensitivity and the disrespect shown to…all of us who still live with the pain and suffering as a result of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination, racism and even today we have to deal with it.” Del. McQuinn continued (bolding added by me for emphasis):
“…some of you will never feel the wounds or the pain as a result of slavery or Jim Crow, and to stand in here and say the Democrats supported slavery without putting that statement in a historical context was misleading and hurtful. In fact, referring to slavery or women’s suffrage or massive resistance was all totally irrelevant to an open and honest debate about gun control. What was really disturbing to me was the acknowledgement that we could not get reasonable gun control legislation passed because of an unjustified distrust of our intentions…
There are many of us who have worked for decades to have an open and honest debate, to build bridges…and are often shut down or shut off or closed out or literally shot down by many who are interested in political posturing or holding a steadfast party line than in listening and having an open mind about issues…Needless to say, the issue of gun violence in America and our Commonwealth is completely out of control.
So let us not deflect by bringing in other conversations. Let us not bring in things that would be hurtful and painful to people who have to live in a skin that some of you will never know and have to endure a reality that being black in America is sometimes difficult. Let us talk about the real issue. And most of all let us be respectful of one another…I don’t want anyone to tolerate me; accept me for who I am. And who I am is a result of, and the pain I have to endure sometime, is a result of what’s happened in history...We have an opportunity to be Virginia and be leading this nation in making things right, building better relationships and also doing something about gun control…
Finally, Del. Bagby spoke powerfully, using words that I strongly support:
On Friday we heard some comments on the floor which started out addressing gun violence, but quickly devolved into comments that were considered by members of this body…as hateful and divisive. The speeches used language laced with political rhetoric that many referred to as dog whistling. Citing abortion,, welfare, family structure and a litany of other stereotypes as a place to start to prevent gun violence.
The sentiments invoked more than just guns. The ideas espoused on the floor of this historic chamber reminded us of the remnants of a painful past…We realize we live in an ugly political moment, so while we were offended, we were not surprised. It should embarrass every member of this body that we have allowed such rhetoric to enter this chamber. Bringing up a very painful past to make a political point is disgusting and poisonous…
As the Chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, I stand to put each member of this body on notice that our heritage will not be used a political football…We also have questions related to the substance of what was said on Friday. When you say cultural shifts in the 1960s are to blame for gun violence, what shifts are you exactly referring to? Was it the final breakthroughs of the Civil Rights movement? Was it the redlining that created poor neighborhoods and high concentrated areas of poverty? Or was it in fact Massive Resistance? Who is the welfare state? Is it the working poor that are trying to make ends meet, some working multiple jobs….or the folks who are standing in line for the RAM clinic for healthcare?
We should not use terms like ‘broken homes’ without context…I come from a home that some may consider a ‘broken home’…I would rather us spend our time working together to address breaking cycles of poverty, to address breaking up pockets up poverty throughout the Commonwealth than labeling individuals and families and communities...A reckless mention of poverty to prove a political point is dangerous and willfully neglectful…Let’s show legislatures across the [country] how great and powerful this legislature is…Let’s be the change.
Great stuff; let’s hope that Republicans like Del. Nick Freitas, Del. Todd Gilbert, Del. Brenda Pogge, Del. Thomas Wright and others were listening!