Conservative lawmakers across the country are targeting Black-led cities, Black leaders, and Black communities in 2023 legislative sessions and beyond.
States across the nation are approving a torrent of controversial and culturally conservative legislation in this year’s legislative sessions. Some of these bills would bring major changes to vital government services from public education to policing and the criminal-legal system, but they are being written and passed at a rapid pace, with no bipartisan support, and often over the vociferous protest of Black political leaders, activists, and communities.
Republican led states are leading this wave of socially regressive legislation, and many of these bills target majority-Black cities and communities. Many of these policies threaten the health, safety, and self-determination of Black citizens. Below are some examples of these policies from states across the nation.
Undermining District Attorneys & Prosecutors in Atlanta, Georgia and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Republicans have sponsored legislation in Georgia that would undermine the authority of local district attorneys by making it easier to remove them from office. Fani T. Willis, the district attorney in Atlanta, views these Republican sponsored bills (HB 23 & SB 92), as racist and as possible retaliation for her ongoing investigation of former President Donald J. Trump and his attempts to change election results after his narrow loss in Georgia in 2020.
These bills are part of a broader push by conservative lawmakers around the country to rein in district attorneys whom they consider too liberal. In Georgia, the measures include two bills that would create a new state oversight board that could punish or remove prosecutors for loosely defined reasons, including “willful misconduct,” and one bill that would sharply reduce the number of signatures required to seek the recall of a district attorney.
Similarly, in Pennsylvania, the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania House voted to impeach Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s district attorney. Krasner is a liberal D.A. whose prior practice specialized in criminal defense and civil rights. He has filed more than 75 civil rights lawsuits against the police for corruption and physical abuse.
Ending Local Control of Policing in Missouri
Police departments in both Kansas City and St. Louis were governed by state-appointed police boards until 2012, undermining the authority of locally elected officials. St. Louis, however, gained local control of its police department via a 2012 statewide referendum. Now conservative lawmakers in the state government are trying to regain control of St. Louis’s local police. Missouri House members have passed HB 53, HB 213, HB 216, HB 306, and HB 702 which would allow a state board to resume control over the St. Louis police department, which is now overseen by the Mayor of St. Louis, Tishaura Jones. Ms. Jones, who took office in 2021, is the first Black woman to serve as the city’s mayor.
Currently, only the Kansas City Police Department is being managed under a state Board of Police Commissioners. Yet, Kansas City has a crime rate that is about two times higher than that of St. Louis.
Undermining Local Tax Authority in Montgomery, Alabama
State preemption of local control is not a new phenomenon. In early spring of 2020, the Montgomery City Council voted to establish a new 1% payroll tax on employees who work in the city in order to better fund public services. The money was earmarked to help increase the city’s workforce, among other things. However, before the tax took effect, the Alabama State Legislature voted to strip cities of their ability to levy new occupational taxes. This new law nullified the City of Montgomery’s new occupational tax less than two months after their City Council approved the measure. Now, cities must get permission from the state legislature before raising occupational taxes. This measure undermines local control and harms the ability of all cities in Alabama to raise revenue and provide quality services.
Limiting Police Oversight in Memphis, Tennessee
In the Tennessee Statehouse, multiple bills have been introduced to roll back or restrict civilian oversight of police departments. These bills--including SB 591 & HB 764--would stop cities from establishing community oversight review boards for police departments. These boards are common across the nation and are often charged with investigating excessive use-of-force cases. Under this proposed legislation, municipalities could instead create police advisory committees to be made up of government employees. This legislation would prevent existing boards, like the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board in Memphis, from investigating use-of-force cases that occurred prior to July 2023, making it impossible for them to investigate the beating and death of Tyre Nichols.
These bills are just a small sampling of the conservative assault on Black communities and Black-led cities. In many more state capitols, legislators are working to undermine local control and the self-determination of Black residents and other voters who have elected progressive leaders and supported progressive movements. These attacks on democracy are deeply troubling, and Black-led municipalities should be prepared to fight back.