During yesterday’s meeting of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, Deputy Speaker Charlene Lima (Democrat, District 14, Cranston) threatened to have law enforcement escort a black legislator off the floor during a floor speech about Black History Month and about the accomplishments of black lawmakers in the room.
It all started when Representative Joseph Almeida (Democrat, District 12, Providence) rose for an adjournment and to talk about a “little black history.” After Almeida spoke for a bit, Lima interrupted, saying, “Excuse Representative. As much as I love hearing your stories, and I truly do…”
“Oh this ain’t no story,” countered Almeida.
“Is there an adjournment here?” asked Lima. An adjournment is a traditional legislative procedure in which the House closes business for the day in honor of someone or something suggested by a legislator.
“Yeah, I just gave you the guy’s name. Bass Reeves. Write his name down,” said Almeida. Bass Reeves, according to Wikipedia, was the first black deputy United States marshal west of the Mississippi River. He was also the inspiration for the iconic and fictional Lone Ranger, who was notably white, not black.
Can we please ask a favor?
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Almeida continued his floor speech. “Black history does not [just] include Black people. Jewish people helped start the NAACP in New York. they helped with their hard work, they helped with their financing. If you look at the front lines of when Martin Luther King…”
“Excuse me, Representative…” interrupted Lima, for a second time.
“Can you please allow him to speak?” interrupted Representative Raymond Hull (Democrat, District 6, Providence), yelling from the floor.
“What’s your point of order Representative Hull?” asked Lima. “Could you use your microphone?
“Would you please allow him to finish please?” asked Hull.
“Okay, I don’t want to violate any rules,” said Lima. “We’re on an adjournment…”
“We’re not violating anything,” interrupted Hull. “He is speaking. Please allow him to finish.”
“We’re on an adjournment, so if you want to…” repeated Lima.
“Yes. Could you please allow him to finish please?” repeated Hull.
“Representative Hull, thank you for your point of order,” said Lima, her patience fraying. “But we’re on an adjournment. Adjournment is you talk about the person who passed away. Representative Almeida, I love you…”
Hull continued to protest from the floor, off mic.
“Sit down Representative Hull,” ordered Lima.
Hull did not sit down.
“Representative Hull, you’re out of order!” yelled Lima, banging her gavel. “Sit down!”
“Representative Hull I will not allow you to disrupt this floor. Sit down!” yelled Lima. She turned her attention back to Almeida.
“Madam…” began Almeida.
“Shut his microphone off!” yelled Lima, referring to Hull, but interrupting Almeida for a third time. “Representative Almeida I love your history talk, we all do. We’re on an adjournment please…”
“Allow him to finish!” yelled Hull from the floor.
“Representative Hull if you keep disrupting this House I will ask the Sheriff to take you off the floor until you can comport yourself!” yelled Lima. “Sit down!”
“This is my history, this is our history and it needs…” yelled Hull, who hosted the Martin Luther King Jr State Holiday Commission Celebration in January.
“And there’s a time and a place for it!” yelled Lima.
“This is our place!” retorted Hull.
“Thank you, sit down!” replied Lima. “Sit down please.”
“Representative Williams, what’s your point of order?” asked Lima.
“It’s Madam Chairwoman Williams,” said Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence) correcting Lima, after a pause.
“I’m sorry, Chairwoman Williams,” said Lima with a smile.
“I am going to respectfully say to you and my colleagues in this chamber,” began Williams, choosing her words carefully. “What just took place was absolutely not necessary and it was not handled in the proper manner for which you as the acting – the acting Speaker – someone that has taken the lead – should have behaved.
“I understand and I respect that my colleague, Representative Almeida, may have been out of the context of adjournment,” continued Williams. “but he has a history that he is sharing at the moment, and it may not have been the right place, but your place should have been and should be that Representative Almeida, while we are on an adjournment, let’s move this so that you are able to address what you’re trying to address. Not the behavior that just went and took place!
“Not only in this chamber but for everybody that is watching us right now and for the people of color who are celebrating Black History Month, the shortest month of the year. Please, please, I know that you’ve got it going on, and I know that you have more respect in you to give than what you just demonstrated.
“Please do not disrespect the community of color on/in Black History Month, at this time, in this chamber! Now, or ever! Ever again! Please do not!”
“Thank you Representative Williams,” said Lima. “let me say this: When you’re on the podium you have to follow the rules. When you get up for an adjournment, you stick to the adjournment. What I would suggest is – Representative Almeida, if you put in a resolution honoring Black History Month, we will read it, we will sign it, we will discuss it and we will listen to it. And we would all love to hear that…
“Point of order!” yelled Representative Teresa Tanzi (Democrat, District 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown) from the floor, over and over.
“I’m talking right now,” said Lima. “It’s no disrepect to you or Black History month. It just has to be done in the proper forum or we’ll have total chaos.”
Tanzi again from the floor, unintelligible.
“So you’re more than welcome to do it,” said Lima. “We’ll just do it in a resolution form so we can hear it all?”
The audio cuts out when Tanzi speaks from the floor this time.
“I was speaking, Representative Tanzi,” said Lima. “Do you understand, Representative Almeida, the distinction? Do an adjournment, do a resolution, get up and talk all you want about Black History Month. We’d love to hear it.”
“Representative Tanzi, what’s your point of order?”
“My point of order is that it is in fact properly before us,” said Tanzi. “As [Almeida] repeated himself twice for you to understand what he was about to do. He said that he was going to do his 7Ds, he said he was going to do an adjournment, and then he said he had an announcement. So he did his 7Ds, he did his adjournment, and now he’s doing an announcement. he said he had a bit of history, and that is precisely what he is doing. I would argue that he is in fact doing precisely what was before us so…”
“Representative…” began Lima, attempting to interrupt.
“I object to your ruling of him being out of order. And that brings us – as the parliamentarian will surely tell you – my objecting to overrule your order would mean that we would have to do a vote – You either sustain my [objection] or we can go to a vote and see if people want to sustain that.”
“Sure,” said Lima. “Leader Shekarchi.”
“Thank you, Madam Speaker,” said House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick). “If someone disagrees with the ruling of the chair, the Speaker, in this particular case, The procedure is to challenge the ruling of the chair. Now no one has done that. The point I want to make is…”
“Well I just did,” said Tanzi. “I challenge the decision of the chair.”
“That is a non-debatable motion, ” said Shekarchi. “And I would ask the Speaker…”
“Clerk, unlock the machine!” yelled Lima. “All those in favor of the ruling of the chair please vote green…”
“Hold on, hold on! I’m taking over! Come on!” said Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston), dismissing Lima from the podium, as Representative Hull continued to yell from the floor.
“That makes me look bad,” said Lima, leaving.
“Representative Hull, you are out of order,” said Mattiello.
“You’re out of order, Mr Speaker!” said Hull. “You allow him to speak his mind and allow him to finish!”
“Representative Hull you are out of order. I will address it. You wait until you are addressed by the chair. The chair will get to everybody in the room. Please use your microphones and act respectfully. And I will get to you. I will get to you – Speak after you are acknowledge. You and everybody else in this room.
“Now, Representative Almeida, I believe you have something you want to say,” continued Mattiello. “Proceed.”
There’s a problem though. Mattiello was out of order. There was an open challenge from Tanzi to Lima’s decision on the floor.
Hull and Tanzi and Williams all yelled from the floor.
“Thank you, Mr Speaker…” began Almeida, before being interrupted yet again.
“Chairwoman please,” began Mattiello.
“What are you going to say?” asked Williams.
“I understand,” said Mattiello. “I’m going to kindly ask everybody…”
More voices from the floor, difficult to decypher.
“I am going to kindly ask – I’m going to start calling people out by name,” threatened the Speaker. “People are speaking without being called at a time that is very inappropriate and disrespectful to this chamber and the public!
“Please wait until you are called upon by the chair,” continued Mattiello. “You want to say something and address anybody, use your light. Otherwise you’re not recognized and you’re out of order. Representative Almeida, proceed.”
Thank you. Thank you, Mr Speaker,” began Almeida once more. “So, what I…”
“Hold on Representative,” said Mattiello , interrupting Almeida yet again.
“I offer to remove my challenge to the chair if you let him speak,” said Tanzi.
“Representative Almeida proceed and anyone that’s not recognized please be respectful to this room and the public,” said Mattiello. “Proceed, Representative Almeida.”
“Thank you, Mr Speaker,” said Almeida. “Initially when i started I did the 7Ds, not to be repetitious, and then I talked about recognition of adjournment and I also said I’d be doing a piece of Black history, like I’ve been doing for a month. So I don’t know what went wrong, but that’s what I’ve been doing.
“And to continue on what I was simply saying was that I’m reaching around to all the white members here on this House floor that Black history was not done just by Black People. It was in fact done with and included white people…”
You can see Almeida’s entire floor speech, without the interruptions, here:
Here’s the entirety of the video, floor speech and interruptions together:
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