Apr 23, 2021 - News

Black lawmakers confront racism in Colorado legislature

State Rep. Janet Buckner stands on the House floor with her eyes closed.

State Sen. Janet Buckner. Photo: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The racial tension at the Colorado Capitol is escalating, and Black lawmakers say they won't tolerate it — or the silence of their white allies any longer.

What they're saying: "We have just hit a wall," state Rep. Dominique Jackson (D-Aurora) told the Denver Post.

  • "What we’re facing, we’ve been facing the same thing our entire lives. That’s why we’re exhausted," added Sen. Janet Buckner, a fellow Aurora Democrat and Legislative Black Caucus member.

What happened: Rep. Ron Hanks (R-Penrose) made a joke last week about lynching and said the Three-fifths Compromise that devalued the lives of Black slaves during the drafting of the Constitution was "not impugning anybody’s humanity."

  • Rep. Rod Bockenfeld (R-Watkins) shouted "I didn't ask for this color" on the House floor after a Black lawmaker condemned white supremacy following last month's Atlanta shootings, in which six of the victims were Asian women.
  • In 2019, another Republican lawmaker falsely claimed that white people were lynched as often as Black people.

Be smart: The instances are not isolated, and Black lawmakers say their viewpoints are more likely to get discounted.

The other side: Rep. Richard Holtorf, an Akron Republican who identifies as Hispanic, said he had a gay Black friend in college and added that the Black caucus "could temper their remarks" about race.

  • "We’re Americans first. We have to start with that premise," he told the Post. "We can’t continue to politically divide and racially divide ourselves."

The big picture: Beginning in the 2019 session, Colorado's General Assembly became more diverse. There are now nine members, all Democrats, in the Legislative Black Caucus.

  • A 2020 study from Metro State University in Denver found that diversity influences the policy issues debated at the statehouse.

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