Five days after walking out of a heated committee debate on a so-called “stand your ground” measure, Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, unapologetically defended her “outburst and words” that have since gone viral nationally, stating publicly that only God could judge her.
In one of the most striking moments of the 92nd General Assembly in Little Rock, Flowers emotionally addressed her fellow 34 senators during a “point of personal privilege” on the Senate floor Monday (March 11) to explain her unfiltered and sometimes profanity-laced speech in committee on Senate Bill 484 last week that she said jokingly had “blown up” on social media.
“I think we all know that it has been a quite amazing and unusual weekend, at least for me,” said Flowers. “I want to address some of the emotion and passion of last Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee meeting that went viral.”
Last week, the Pine Bluff Democrat’s vocal disagreement with fellow senators to limit testimony on SB 484 by Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Berryville, which would allow 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 Judiciary committee last week, 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.
Over the weekend, as Flowers’ 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. By Monday, local news sources were reporting that the committee hearing had garnered over 3 million views on Facebook alone.
In today’s Senate meeting with her pastor and other ministers there for support, Flowers described the overwhelming response she has received from across the U.S. and globally from supporters and detractors who felt compelled to contact her about her comments on Senate Bill 484. She said she not only wanted to address her colleagues, but also the millions of social media viewers who felt compelled to weigh in on her remarks.
“So, I am here to address them because we are live-streamed now … so we can’t blame the media and it is transparency, and it allows the public to see what deliberations we make here in our Senate body and committee meetings, so that is a good thing,” said Flowers, who is vice chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In the face of a possible censure or reprimand by the full Senate body, Flowers asked her colleagues and social media commenters to try and understand the root of her passion and emotion.
“I can’t count the number of emails that I got encouraging my passionate emotion that was exhibited in the Judiciary Committee meeting. And I‘d like to say and acknowledge to them and let you know there are a lot of people suffering because of violence and because of the loss of young lives,” she said. “And it is not just one race, but they are all agreeing that right now that in my community and in communities of color across this country – it seems to be more of the burden placed on communities, and mothers and fathers, and sisters and brothers have lost their loved ones early.”
Later, Flowers said she was also acknowledging all the people who had contacted her from across the South, taking the time to clearly name every southern state one by one.
“All of the southern states had people call me and leave me messages and thank me and let me know that I spoke what was in their hearts and something that they could really bring out and speak,” Flowers said emotionally. “And they were glad to have and see somebody come and speak what they could not speak. And express it the way they could not express it.”
After thanking those who sent her messages over the weekend, Flowers said she had no reason to apologize for her emotion, noting that she lost a sister in 1969 to gun violence. She then shifted to her Christian faith, saying she was a “follower of Christ Jesus.”
“My outburst and the words I used, God will judge me,” Flowers said patting her heart. “And I will accept His judgment, and I hope He is well-pleased. Thank you!”
Following her floor speech, which received light applause from her 34 colleagues, Senate President Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, came to the podium amid calls over the weekend to censure or publicly rebuke the Pine Bluff Democrat for her use of profanity and the heated confrontation with other senators during last week’s committee hearing.
Instead, Hendren pleaded with his fellow senators to continue to hold vigorous and passionate debates on controversial issues for the remainder of the session, but to show respect for each other.
“Let’s not make the debate about language or decorum, but rather about the issues and how they affect the people of Arkansas,” said Hendren, adding that “despite the continued race to the bottom in political discourse at the national level, we will continue to hold ourselves and the Arkansas Senate to a higher standard of professionalism and decorum. The use of profanity does not meet that standard.”
The Republican leader then explained he had personally talked with Flowers several times over the weekend, noting that the senator’s passion was well-placed and understandable because of her own personal dealings with gun violence.
“(Her) passion is real, it is not to garner attention and it is not for show. After all, we have seen similar passion before from her on similar issues,” he said. “For these reasons, I do not support any effort to censure or punish Sen. Flowers. We need to move on and with purpose to accomplish the important work remaining in the session.”
Later, Sens. Ballinger and Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, both white, also came to the podium to express their views about the debate on SB 484, both saying publicly they loved and admired Sen. Flowers, who is black. Ballinger, sponsor of the controversial “stand your ground” bill, stopped short of calling for the Senate to reprimand or punish his Senate colleague.
“I love you. I am willing to die for you and your family,” said Ballinger, also professing his Christian faith. “But one thing I think is important is that we realize, some things are just not justifiable … but, I do believe we should move on.”
Nearly two hours later, toward the end of the long Senate session, Clark also came to the podium to decry national news articles that he said held him up in a negative light. The Lonsdale senator said he had received dozens of angry phone calls and emails, noting that he was angry at how things have turned out.
“(I) love Sen. Flowers and she loves me. I don’t appreciate those that try to turn things into something (they) are not,” said Clark, who left the floor and heartily embraced Flowers.