Republicans on Thursday voted to ban diversity spending in the government of Missouri, a state known internationally for racial justice protests in Ferguson and the University of Missouri.
Democratic state Rep. David Tyson Smith, who represents the city that's home to the University of Missouri's flagship campus, warned of a threat of unrest if lawmakers do not "rein this divisiveness in."
"I'm not advocating violence, of course. I'm not condoning any of that. But we are going to reach a point in our country where we cannot go backwards," Smith told colleagues on the House floor.
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Smith represents the college city of Columbia, home to the University of Missouri's flagship campus. Racial justice protests at the school — including a hunger strike and the football team threatening to not play — led to the resignation of the university system’s president and the reassignment of its provost in 2015.
The year before Michael Brown, a Black teenager, was fatally shot by a white officer in the St. Louis County town of Ferguson, Missouri, prompting months of sometimes violent protests. Though the officer was not charged, investigations showed how Black drivers in the region were more likely to be pulled over for traffic stops and victimized by debilitating fines and court fees.
State lawmakers on Thursday voted along mostly party lines in favor of a proposed $45 billion state budget that blocks funding for staff, vendors, consultants and programs "associated with diversity, equity (and) inclusion" throughout state government and public colleges and universities.
The prohibitions also apply to initiatives that promote "collective guilt," "the concept that disparities are necessarily tied to oppression" and "intersectional or divisive identity activism," among other concepts.
Supporters of the spending restrictions face a wall in the GOP-led Senate, where the powerful Appropriations Committee chairman has said he plans to strip the language from the budget.
Rep. Doug Richey has led the push to prohibit diversity spending. He and other Republicans argued that modern concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion are Marxist and that talking about race is racist and divisive.
Democrats decried Richey's effort to limit diversity spending as racist and warned that adding the ban to the state budget will risk Missouri’s funding for the federal health insurance program of Medicaid.
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Richey said equality has existed since the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
"I envision a day where we celebrate what we have always been known for in western civilization," Richey said, "and that is: we respect the freedom and dignity of every single individual."
Rep. Raychel Proudie, a Democrat from Ferguson, 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 jaw dropping" and described how she is frequently called by a racial slur.
"Just imagine what it’s like to be called that over and over and over again," Proudie said. "It hurts."
The budget now heads to the Senate for consideration. Lawmakers face a May 5 deadline to pass a budget.