Perhaps aiming to show instead of tell, a Missouri House Republican leader literally silenced the president of the Missouri NAACP — as he attempted to testify against a bill that would gut protections against workplace discrimination at a public hearing on Monday night.
Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel was speaking against a set of bills that he described as “an expansion of discrimination.” Chapel wasn’t hyperbolizing. Currently, under the Missouri Human Rights Act, a plaintiff must prove that their race, religion, sex, or age was a “contributing factor” to their termination.
Under Springfield Republican Rep. Kevin Austin’s bill, the burden of proof would be raised so that the plaintiff’s race, religion, sex, or age is a “motivating factor.” In other words, if you’re fired just because you’re Black that’s good old fashioned discrimination. If you’re fired because you’re Black and get to work late, while your white co-worker isn’t fired for arriving late, that’s not discriminatory wrongful termination. The bill also caps the amount of money people could receive if they were able to prove they had been discriminated against. So, it’s pretty fair to call it an expansion of discrimination.
In a video of the exchange, which you can find below, Chapel testified that he was “dismayed” that universities, schools, and businesses had testified on behalf of the bill and were therefore “all united in favor of expanding discrimination.”
Committee chair Rep. Bill Lant, R-Pineville, saw all of this discrimination talk as irrelevant to bills pertaining to discrimination. So, he instructed Chapel to “contain [his] speech to speaking on the bill.” Chapel responded, “Oh, but I am, because this is nothing but Jim Crow. Because this is nothing but Jim Crow. You cannot legalize discrimination on an individual basis and call it anything else.” So, Lant did what any white lawmaker would do when an African American leader of the nation’s largest civil rights organization indicts racism: by cutting off his mic.
Lant “allowed” Chapel to speak for a few more seconds before he interrupted Chapel, and said, “thank you for your testimony, sir.” Chapel replied, “I’m not done,” and Assistant House Minority Leader Rep. Gina Mitten, a St. Louis Democrat, pointed out that witnesses had five minutes to speak, which Chapel hadn’t been given. Lant once again said Chapel wasn’t “speaking on the subject.” Chapel said, “I am speaking on the subject.” Mitten tried once again to step in for democracy, imploring “I would ask you to please allow,” Chapel to finish speaking. ” Lant replied by saying if there was “no other witness that would like to speak I will cancel this hearing.” A silenced Chapel got out of his seat. Mitten then asked if she could ask Chapel questions. Not surprisingly, Lant said, “no ma’am, you may not.”
In a statement released after the hearing, Mitten wrote, “Jim Crow is alive and well in Missouri and Rep. Lant just proved it.”
Chapel also released a statement that, “the Chair’s refusal to let me speak ensured that not only my voice, but all voices of those protected by anti-discrimination laws in the state were silenced.”
(Just to get more of a sense of Lant, he’s the gentleman who thought it would be a good idea to write on his own website about a former crush’s allegedly low-hanging breasts. Lant and his wife had a real laugh at his high school reunion when they encountered a woman who had been the object of his affection or ogling: “Wow! Time has not been kind to that girl! What was stretching the cardigan 50 years ago is now bumping the belt. Jane was laughing so hard she was turning blue.” They sound like a really fun couple to hang out with.)
It’s heart warming to see that Republicans are being so equal opportunity in their silencing of a white woman like Elizabeth Warren or a Black man like Nimrod Chapel.
Read a transcript below:
Chapel: My name is Nimrod Chapel, and I’m the president of the Missouri State Conference for the NAACP. I appreciate you coming back this evening to give people an opportunity to be heard. That’s important. We as Missourians believe in our Constitution and our ability to participate in government. We believe that we are patriots when it comes to American values that’s equality and justice and that’s for everyone. I have to tell you, I’m kind of dismayed at the groups that have come forward today, I see that the entire University of Missouri system is in favor of expanding discrimination, my alma mater, Wash U is also in favor of expanding discrimination. Schools, where we send our children, are in favor of expanding discrimination. Places where we buy our merchandise and buy our food have united here in favor of discrimination.
Rep. Bill Lant: Please contain your speech to speaking on the bill, sir.
Chapel: Oh but I am because this is nothing but Jim Crow. This is nothing but Jim Crow. You cannot legalize discrimination on an individual basis and call it anything else.
Did my mic go out?
Chapel: We have been a laughing stock for way too long. If you look at Ferguson, we can’t get along in the streets, we have problems with law and order. If you look at MU, we don’t listen to the students when they complain that they are being mistreated, called names, and nothing is done about it.
Lant: Thank you for your testimony sir.
Mitten: Excuse me, Mr. Chair.
Chapel: I’m not done.
Rep. Gina Mitten: We had five minutes for each witness and he’s not done.
Lant: I asked the man to speak on the subject and he’s not speaking on the subject.
Chapel: I am speaking on the subject…
Lant: Is there another witness that would like to speak
Mitten: Mr. Chairman, I would request that you allow…
Lant: Is there another witness that would like to speak, or I will cancel this hearing.