St. Louis Observer: November 11, 2022
Election Day wins & losses across Missouri; alderwoman introduces universal basic income program; Wash U students call for renewed Voting Rights Act; FBI releases wrong crime data for St. Louis
We hear the term “progressive prosecutor” used to describe elected circuit attorneys Kimberly M. Gardner in St. Louis City, Wesley Bell in St. Louis County, and Jean Peters Baker in Kansas City. But what does this term actually mean, in a state where death sentences are still pursued within some of these jurisdictions and where non-violent crimes are oftentimes prosecuted more aggressively than gun violence?
Each of the circuit attorneys in Missouri’s largest jurisdictions ran on platforms of “progress:” vague statements about reforming the prosecutor’s office, maybe or maybe not ending cash bail, decriminalizing minor cannabis possession within their jurisdictions. All three stated that reducing mass incarceration was an objective, and to their credit, lower-level drug offenses and non-payment of child support cases were vastly decreased.
This seems to be where “progress” ends. Gardner has been accused of stalling nearly 6,900 “hard” drug cases and was reprimanded by the Missouri Bar for failing to produce evidence in a high-profile criminal defendant’s case. Bell’s efforts to clean up the horrors inflicted on St. Louisans by his predecessor have seemingly stalled in the wake of budget scandals. Baker gained momentum by being the first prosecutor in the state to leverage a new law to free Kevin Strickland from a wrongful conviction obtained by a previous circuit attorney, but has not filed any more motions to vacate those convictions. “Progress,” as it seems, has hit its limits within the Missouri criminal justice system.
But herein lies our ability to challenge this system as we know it and to reimagine what a justice system would look like when it serves everyone, not just the privileged few. We can ponder prosecution that is focused on restorative justice, where victims of violent crimes are centered and punishment does not automatically entail incarceration. Making victims whole for the harm they’ve suffered should be the goal of our legal system, not a fringe benefit. And at the same time, we can hold our prosecuting attorneys accountable for their failed promises, political shortcomings, and implementation of the death penalty.
Election Day is barely passed, but the time has never been better to reconsider the role played by prosecuting attorneys in our state.
Police, prosecutorial, and judicial accountability
Bobby Bostic, a St. Louis man who has been incarcerated since he was 16 years old, has been released on parole after serving more than 27 years behind bars. Bostic is one of around 100 persons in Missouri who were sentened to life in prison as juveniles and are now eligible for parole pursuant to a 2021 state law. In response to a series of Supreme Court decisions, the Missouri legislature passed the new law to bestow parole eligibility to juveniles sentenced to 15 or more years of incarceration. [Rebecca Rivas and Clara Bates/Missouri Independent]
“Blue Lives Matter” hero and former St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Bob McCulloch has found himself back in the spotlight, as three St. Louis County men sentenced to death through convictions obtained by his office are scheduled for execution in the coming months. Despite those convictions being rendered after alleged prosecutorial misconduct and abusive tactics, McCulloch nevertheless has defended his administration and stands by his usage of capital punishment. [Ryan Krull/River City Journalism Fund]
Missouri voters approved Amendment 4 on Tuesday, forcing Kansas City to allocate more of its annual budget on the Kansas City Police Department. Kansas City is the only municipality in the state that does not have local control over its own police department, due to a Civil War-era law enacted by a pro-slavery governor who wanted to prevent the city from being able to fight confederates. Organizers in Kansas City now look to regain local control of their police department from the state-run board of police commissioners. [Celisa Calacal/KCUR]
Economic development and housing
After a loss in federal court, two St. Louis men continue to challenge municipal legislation that criminalizes feeding unhoused persons in St. Louis City. Ray Redlich and Chris Ohnimus of New Life Evangelistic Center have argued under the First Amendment that their faith mandates that they “provide food to homeless people,” and they have indicated that they will continue to challenge the ordinance until its repeal. [Benjamin Simon/Riverfront Times]
Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard (Ward 26) has introduced legislation to establish a universal basic income pilot program for City residents to help recipients to gain financial stability and to meet their basic needs. The $5 million program aims to build off of the success from a previous program, which allocated funding to provide a $500 one-time cash payment to nearly 9,100 St. Louis residents. [Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio]
Three Washington University students are calling for a renewed Voting Rights Act to address modern voter suppression tactics, such as voter ID requirements, absentee voting, English-only ballots, and other anti-democratic measures. In their article for the RFT, the students specifically named Gov. Parson for embracing voter disenfranchising laws that target college students and immigrant families, making voting systemically more difficult. [Andrew de las Alas, Sonal Churiwal, and Saish Satyal/Riverfront Times]
After parents at a Florissant elementary school provided test results showing radioactive contamination on playgrounds and in the cafeteria, the Army Corps of Engineers is pushing back with claims that new testing shows that the school is safe for students and staff. The Army Corps admitted tht its findings were preliminary and that its methodology varied from Boston Chemical Data Corporation’s, the private firm hired by parents to test around the school. [Kate Grumke/St. Louis Public Radio]
The Kansas Board of Education has called on all public schools in the state to remove Native American-themed mascots within the next 5 years. More than 20 Kansas schools still use racist stereotypes of indigenous culture for their mascots. [Suzanne Perez/KMUW]
On Tuesday, Missourians voted to legalize recreational use of cannabis. Within six months, circuit courts are expected to expunge decades of misdemeanor cannabis offenses for persons no longer incarcerated or on supervised release, although there is no central repository of criminal records in the state. Facilities that currently hold medical cannabis licenses will get first priority in applying for recreational licenses, which are limited to 18 per congressional district. [Meg Cunningham/The Kansas City Beacon]
U.S. Department of Justice officials who monitored Cole County polling locations received resistance from local election authorities, seemingly miffed by the need for federal oversight. Concerns related to Missouri polling places providing accessible voting machines triggered the federal response, and although county Election Day staff were trained to welcome DOJ personnel and allow them to observe, local election authorities later walked back those training directives. [Jason Hancock/Missouri Independent]
Beyond the Paywall
To read the below articles in full, please visit SLPL.org and access these articles through the Digital Content tab. St. Louis City & County residents can read these publications free using their library cards.
“How much crime is in St. Louis? FBI gets numbers wrong after city fell behind on reporting,” by Josh Renaud, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Missouri House candidate who has espoused antisemitism, racism charged with assault,” by Kacen Bayless & Katie Moore, The Kansas City Star
“Man sentenced to prison for threatening to blow up St. Louis synagogue,” by Katie Kull, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis City Board of Aldermen
BB 116, sponsored by Ald. Shameem Clark Hubbard (Ward 26), would delegate a portion of the City’s remaining ARPA funds to create a universal basic income pilot program. The bill was assigned to the HUDZ Committee on November 4.
BB 26 and BB 29, sponsored by Ald. Megan Green (Ward 15), would put before City voters the ballot issue of enacting a surcharge on developers who reduced the number of units for housing rehabs and redevelopment. The bills were assigned to the Neighborhood Development Committee on May 13 and have made no further movement since.
BB 87, sponsored by Ald. Pamela Boyd (Ward 27) and Ald. Carol Howard (Ward 14), would add a new police district to cover Lambert International Airport, raising the number to 7 total in the City of St. Louis. The bill was assigned to the Public Safety Committee on September 16 and has had no further movement.
Learn more about how a bill becomes a City ordinance.
Quote of the Week
We are seeing the consequences of ignoring the needs, over the years, of more marginalized and disinvested communities. To continue any conversation about the future of this city that ignores this reality, is to compound the dire consequences of continuing to dismiss the needs of swaths of the city.
To use an overused witticism attributed to Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Any thoughts on the likelihood of the incoming president of the BoA managing to:
A. enhance the chances of progressive proposals having a clearer path through the board; and
B. stem/redirect the TIF tide?