DOVER — One or more individuals launched an attack using racial slurs during the fifth and final Senate Bill 149 stakeholder meeting Friday.
A news release from Legislative Hall following the virtual meeting said the incident was meant to disrupt and derail meaningful progress made in recent weeks on legislation that aims to increase accountability and reduce tensions between Delaware law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.
The disruption began at 4:01 p.m., when someone twice messaged Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, D-Wilmington, and other panelists with racist slurs. That person was immediately ejected from the virtual meeting.
Minutes later, a person who had virtually raised his or her hand to provide public comment, also used racial epithets. That person also was ejected.
The meeting continued, and after several others spoke, another individual providing public comment used racial language and was cut off from the discussion.
“I am deeply dismayed, but not at all surprised, by this latest reminder that we live in a state and a nation where racist agitators will attack people of color working to make a change in their communities,” Sen. Lockman said.
She added that, although members of the Senate have disagreed and debated during SB 149 meetings, they have always remained respectful, and this incident will not stand in the way of progress.
Democratic leadership in the Senate is working with the Delaware Department of Justice to “determine what steps can be taken from here,” said Scott Goss, director of communications for the Delaware State Senate Democratic Caucus.
Sen. Lockman is the prime sponsor of the bill, which would allow the public to review police disciplinary records, including any complaints, allegations or charges filed against a police officer, transcripts of disciplinary trials or hearings, and the factual findings and final disposition of such cases.
It also would allow any state agency, county or municipality that operates a law enforcement agency to empower a community review board to hear and decide law enforcement disciplinary matters in place of the Delaware Criminal Justice Council or a tribunal made up of fellow police officers.
“It’s painful and shameful that a forum meant to explore the desperate need for police reform was marred by racist epithets,” said Javonne Rich, policy and advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware. “Despite the speakers’ intentions to detract from this important dialogue, Delawareans have convened in listening sessions for months to push elected officials for police reform. Racist attacks will not impede advocates from addressing these critical issues.”
Delaware Fraternal Order of Police President Jamie Leonard, chairman of the Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council Chief Patrick Ogden and Office of Defense Services spokesman Jon Offredo all issued statements condemning the racist comments, as well.
In a joint statement, Mr. Leonard and Mr. Ogden wrote that the language used during the meeting does not reflect the beliefs or ideas of the Delaware law enforcement community.
“We stand together to condemn both the coward who made these comments and the mindset in which he represents,” the statement reads. “We maintain our commitment to increasing the trust between the citizens of Delaware, the communities in which we serve and Delaware’s law enforcement. The comments today will not derail our discussions to achieve this goal.”
Mr. Offredo praised Sen. Lockman for her efforts to foster meaningful discussions about police transparency.
“This critical work will not be deterred by disgusting acts of hate,” he wrote in a statement.