Stand Your Ground bill defeated in committee, but Republican lawmakers look for “backdoor” approval

Stand Your Ground bill defeated in committee, but Republican lawmakers look for “backdoor” approval

By BCN Staff – LITTLE ROCK – Feb. 4, 2021 — At the Arkansas State Capitol on Tuesday (Feb. 2), the big news during the 93rd General Assembly was the defeat of the controversial Stand Your Ground bill. However, the Senate and House sponsors of the legislation are now looking for a back door method to bypass the House Judiciary Committee and extract Senate Bill 24 straight to House floor for a full vote by the 100-person body.

Those actions are ongoing after Senate Bill 24 failed in a voice vote before the 20-member House Judiciary panel late Tuesday evening after nearly four hours of debate and emotional testimony at the Arkansas capital in Little Rock.

A similar bill, which would allow someone to use deadly force to defend themselves against an aggressor, failed in the same committee two years ago. The 2019 vote was highlighted by Pine Bluff Democrat Sen. Stephanie Flowers’ emotional and profanity-laced speech that went viral on Facebook and social media.

On Tuesday afternoon, nearly three dozen people testified against the gun-rights proposal, saying a law that is now legal in 25 other states would cause violence against Blacks and other minority populations. More than a dozen Black Arkansans gave testimony before the crowded House committee despite COVID-19 social distancing and mask-wearing rules.

After House Judiciary Committee members voted to limited speeches on SB 24 to five minutes, several black lawmakers, public officials and other Arkansans used their time to make impassioned pleas for the panel to vote against legislation they said would imperil black lives.

“If Stand Your Ground passes, violence will be escalated, and mothers will be burying their children, husbands, and their loves ones,” said Rep. Jamie Scott, a Democrat from North Little Rock who sits on the influential Judiciary Meeting after only two years as a state legislator.

Mayor Julian Lott of Camden also spoke out against SB 24 as president of the Arkansas Black Mayors Association. “Stand Your Ground allows people to be judge, jury and executioner for their actions,” said Lott, the first black mayor of the southern Arkansas community in Calhoun County.

Despite its defeat and uncertain future, SB 24 could come back up again before the session, depending on the will of the sponsor, Republican Sen. Bob Ballinger of Ozark. Two weeks ago, SB 24 easily sailed out of the Senate by a vote of 27 yeas, 7 nays.

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Trayvon Martin and the future of SB 24

The debate on the Stand Your Ground Bill over the past two years has brought national attention to Arkansas in the backdrop of the Trayvon Martin tragedy nine years ago. In that case, white security officer George Zimmerman shot and killed the 17-year-old Black teenager and then claimed self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. He was later acquitted, and 25 states have adopted similar laws that undermines the U.S. legal concept of “duty to retreat” from a dangerous situation.

During Tuesday’s committee hearing, white legislator Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Clarksville, spoke in support of the defeated SB 24 as the bill’s House sponsor. In touting the bill, Pilkington spoke of an incident where a friend of his killed after during a robbery even after he retreated.

“I asked that you support this bill,” said Pilkington, a healthcare administrator who serves the majority white Johnson and Pope counties in north-central Arkansas.

Ballenger and Pilkington have now threatened this to use a rare parliamentary procedure to pull SB 24 straight out of committee onto the House floor for a full vote. Both lawmakers said they believe there is a supermajority of Republicans in the House that will easily approve the controversial bill despite educators, criminal defense attorneys, doctors, community leaders and ordinary Black citizens speaking out against it.

Two years ago, Republicans also attempted similar oblique maneuvers to approve a similar Stand Your Ground bill during the 92nd General Assembly. Debate on the 2019 bill also led to a vocal disagreement between Sen. Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff with fellow senators to limit testimony the failed SB 484 Ballinger, which would have allowed an individual to protect and defend their own life and limb against a threat or perceived threat.

After two hours of testimony on the bill in the Senate Judiciary committee in May 2019, Flowers argued vehemently against cutting debate short in comments that were captured on the Senate’s new live-streaming system that can be seen online. In one explicit exchange with current Senate Judiciary Chair Alan Clark, a white male Republican from Lonsdale, Flowers argued that a Stand Your Ground bill in Arkansas would endanger Black men and children.

At the time, Flowers’ outburst and sometimes, profanity-laced comments spread like fire across Facebook, Twitter and social media. It was also picked up by the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Reuters and other national news organizations, garnering 3 million views on Facebook alone.

Earlier in the week, the W. Harold Flowers Law Society in Little Rock held a press conference with a coalition of state leaders and lawmakers on the State Capitol steps to oppose the Stand Your Ground bill. That group included former Senate President Jim Hendren, a Republican senator from Gravette and nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson who has vehemently spoke out against SB 24.

Hendren is being mentioned as a possible moderate gubernatorial candidate in 2020 against the current roster of more conservative and Pro-Trump. To date, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, and Sarah Sanders Huckabee, the former press secretary for outgoing President Donald Trump, have all announced their plans to run for governor in 2022.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, whose terms end at the end of 2022, has stated public opposition against the Stand Your Ground bill. However, he has not said if he would sign or veto the bill if it became law.

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Black Consumer News of Arkansas will continue to follow and report on this ongoing story.

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