Before a bill to end qualified immunity was advanced out of the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday, Delegate Jeffrey Bourne (D-Richmond City) called the language used by Republican opposition to the legislation examples of systemic and institutionalized racism.
“I hope everyone on this committee has listened to the type of language that has been used, the types of language that has been used to talk about why we should oppose this bill is exactly the types of systemic and institutionalized racism we are trying to dismantle,” Bourne said during the committee meeting.
Bourne received the last opportunity of the meeting to speak to the bill when he made the controversial remark.
Afterward, House Minority Leader Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) released a statement rebuking Bourne’s assertion.
“Charges of racism in debate against any member of the Republican Caucus are something I take seriously,” Gilbert said. “Upon hearing them, I immediately reviewed the tape of the meeting. What I heard was a legislative policy discussion, with two sides debating the impact of legislation. No motives were questioned, no ad hominem attacks were leveled.
“But Del. Bourne’s comments turn a dangerous corner. A charge of racism is a serious thing. It shuts down discussion, and instantly stigmatizes the target. It is the end of debate.”
Tuesday afternoon, Bourne spoke about his comments in an interview with The Virginia Star.
“There is clearly a lot of, to be quite frank, dog whistling that was going on not only in that committee, but in other committees and other witnesses that had testified,” Bourne said. “Trying to justify humans being shot in the back and saying that it never happens here [in Virginia] or no one with good sense would run when cops are just trying to talk to them, we know what that is and there is no justification for shooting somebody in the back seven times. If it can happen in Kenosha, Wisconsin, it can happen in Richmond, Virginia, we’re not immune.”
Of the nine Republican committee members, six spoke in opposition of the bill, including Delegates Kirkland Cox (R-Chesterfield County), Barry Night (R-Virginia Beach), Terry Austin (R-Bedford County) and Emily Brewer (R-Suffolk).
“I think if you look at all the various law enforcement bills, obviously some of us think they could be very detrimental to law enforcement, this [bill] is the one that probably stands out more than any other one,” Cox said in committee. “When you talk to, whether it be representatives from the state police or local law enforcement, this [bill] is the one they fear because they feel like without qualified immunity they will lose a tremendous amount of folks not only from their current ranks but their recruitment will [also] go into a tailspin.”
Other Republican members thought the bill needed to go back to the Committee on Courts of Justice.
“As Delegate Carr said she is not an attorney and neither am I, and that’s why I think this bill should have gone back to the Courts [of Justice Committee],” Austin said “It should go back to Courts [of Justice] to be properly vetted and the language gotten right.”
The Star reached out to Delegates Knight and Austin about Bourne’s comments after the meeting ended.
Knight said that he did not wish to inflame the situation by addressing the comments and wanted to be respectful of his peers, while Austin said that he stood behind the statement Gilbert released.
On Tuesday, Reid presented the motion to reconsider an amended version of the bill saying that changes had been made that addressed his concerns over law enforcement officers being liable while off-duty.
The bill was reported with a substitute to be considered on the House floor by a vote of 12-Y 8-N, Delegates David Bulova (D-Fairfax County) and Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) did not cast votes on the motion.
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Jacob Taylor is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Network. Follow Jacob on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Jeff Bourne” by Jeff Bourne. Background Photo “Virginia House of Delegates Chamber” by Anthony-22. CC BY-SA 4.0.