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Black leaders assail ‘overtly racist conduct’ by lawmakers

Fencing went up around the Roundhouse this year, a precautionary measure given reports of potentially violent protests at state capitols around the country. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Black community groups said Saturday that they are calling on New Mexico legislative leaders to censure two legislators and remove them from committee assignments after “overtly racist conduct” toward Black women in committee hearings.

The groups held an online news conference and released a statement signed by 60 individuals. They described a “hostile work environment for Black women in the Roundhouse” that requires an apology and immediate action.

“The bullying must stop,” said Barbara Jordan, a retired Air Force master sergeant and founder of People Requiring Equality within Systemic Systems New Mexico.

The criticism focused on Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, and Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park.

Baca apologized last week after asking a Black woman nominated for a Cabinet post whether she felt she could adequately represent different cultures in a state with a population that’s just 3% African American. He later applauded Veteran Services Secretary Sonya Smith’s “commitment to minority inclusion” and supported her confirmation.

The allegations against Lord center on a committee hearing earlier this month, when she said she had called law enforcement after a contentious exchange with a Black woman who had testified as an expert witness.

The legislation at issue proposed increased criminal penalties for officers who rape a suspect, victim, witness or person in their custody.

Lord said she took issue with the suggestion that only officers who commit rape are opposed to the bill.

Alexandria Taylor, a Black woman and deputy director of the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, disputed that characterization of her testimony and said she had talked with officers about the bill.

Lord later said that she “was just on the phone with several law enforcement” officers to explain how upset she was by the testimony. In a written statement, Taylor described it as an attempt to threaten and intimidate her.

House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said Saturday that Lord has done nothing to warrant censure or removal from committees.

She simply had an honest disagreement with the witness and talked to law enforcement officers – the focus of the legislation – about her objection to what was said about them, he said.

Montoya said he’s never seen Lord do anything that suggests she’s racist.

“There’s not even smoke here to indicate fire,” Montoya said.

In Saturday’s statement, Black community leaders said the Legislature should censure Baca and Lord and remove them from committee assignments, in addition to establishing a commission on racial equity and justice.

“There should be no tolerance for racializing governance, for demeaning and condescending New Mexicans within the government’s framework or for any forms of disrespect or diminution of any member of New Mexico’s multicultural constituency,” the statement said.

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