La. lawmakers advance policing study, but remove language on race

La. lawmakers advance policing study, but remove language on race
Louisiana Rep. Ted James speaks during a House and Government Affairs Committee hearing at the state capitol in Baton Rouge, La. on Wednesday, June 10, 2020. (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A Louisiana House committee advanced a resolution that calls for a broad study of “law enforcement systems and policing,” but stripped language in the measure regarding race.

The original preamble to Baton Rouge democrat Rep. Ted James’ plan called for the study because “the deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers in recent years have raised a number of questions about the treatment of racial minorities within the criminal justice system.”

But some lawmakers expressed concern the phrasing ignored problems involving other minorities and genders, including the treatment of black women.

“We have to study the issue as a whole if we want to recognize the challenges the system faces,” Rep. Beau Beaullieu, R-New Iberia, said.

Rep. Dodie Horton, a white republican from Haughton, said she was offended because the preamble only addressed white officers.

“I’ve never seen a more racist document than the one you’ve brought,” she told James. “This document - unless it’s re-written at the beginning - I’ve never been more insulted since I’ve been elected.”

Lawmakers generally use preambles to explain in statute why their legislation is warranted or valuable. The committee replaced the mention of specific races in House Resolution 13, instead of calling for the study because “the unreasonable use of force, including instances resulting in death by law enforcement officers in recent years have raised a number of questions about the disparate treatment of different segments of society within the criminal justice system."

The committee also stripped a preamble reference to George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers face aiding and abetting charges for Floyd’s death.

“To turn a blind eye to this incident would be a disgrace,” Rep. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport, said. “To not acknowledge that we probably wouldn’t be having this dialogue if it were not for that incident.”

James agreed to remove the preamble language, arguing he would rather move the bill forward and begin its work than make statements about its necessity.

“I’m not married to the language,” James said.

Democrats and some republicans expressed concern about watering the resolution’s language down but did not object to its passage. Other republicans said they could not support the measure if it included the language on race.

“Obviously, there is a significant racial component to it,” Rep. Barry Ivey, a white Central republican, said. “We choose not to put the race label on it in the conversation when we need to. We need to listen and understand. I need to do a lot of listening.”

“We cannot deal with a race-based issue through race-neutral policies,” Rep. Royce Duplessis, a black New Orleans democrat, said.

The resolution would create a task force charged with studying policing in Louisiana, comprised of lawmakers, members from advocacy groups like the NAACP, and law enforcement leaders. They’d issue a report to the legislature prior to the 2021 legislative session.

The bill now moves to the house floor, where language about Floyd and race could be restored.

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