St. Louis Observer: October 21, 2022
Voter ID lawsuit dismissed; radioactive waste forces closure of N. County school; City to launch mental health department; jail oversight board allowed to move forward
Last week, a document was leaked to the St. Louis Observer, showing the intentional efforts by one of the region’s largest hospitality employers to undermine employees who are in the process of unionizing:
In his letter to Union Station Hotel employees, Timothy Cooper of Lodging Hospitality Management refers directly to a petition filed with the National Labor Rights Board by UNITE HERE, a labor organization that represents employees in the hotel, gaming, food industry, laundry, textile, and transportation industries. Using near-identical language that we have seen from Amazon and Starbucks as those companies, too, try to stifle organized labor, Cooper tries to walk the fine line that union-busters know so well. Cooper admonishes employees that “if [a union] gets into any part of our Hotel, it will affect each and every one of us,” and relies on divisive language to achieve the very transparent goal of driving a wedge between unionizing employees and those ineligible for the benefits of organized labor.
The fight for workers’ rights is intrinsically connected to the cause of abolishing the carceral state as we know it. A loophole in the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery except after a criminal conviction, and since the Reconstruction Era, millions of Black and brown people have been exploited for their labor for the benefit of private industry. Prisons systemically steal labor from incarcerated persons, who are forced to work full work days for the benefit of for-profit companies for $0.25 per hour. The current for-profit prison labor system effectively is no different than “convict leasing” programs under Jim Crow laws, where the labor of the imprisoned was “leased” to private railroads, mines, and plantations. Today, however, private companies have set up factories, workshops, and manufacturing facilities inside prison compounds.
As stated by Professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore, the places where prisoners come from and the places where prisons get built are also the places that have been deprived of social services, decent wages, and personhood-affirming institutions for which labor unions advocate. When worker power is weak, prisons are strong - and research has shown that strong labor movements have helped to bring economic equality & power to communities most impacted by the prison industrial complex. Prisons serve as a response to inequality, as well as a driver of it - and just like outsourcing, austerity measures, low wages, and underemployment, prisons are impacted in the same way as the labor movement.
Seeing a letter like the one sent to Union Station employees is a reminder that when workers organize - or even discuss organizing - the Powers that Be tremble. But the message of Cooper’s letter duly serves as a warning to workers who stick together, and the hospitality executive’s shameless plea is reminiscent of the “otherization” and intentional division sowed through Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws.
But we are here to say that slavery by any name - regardless of employment or carceral status - is wrong in all forms, and so long as one demographic of workers can be exploited for their labor, all workers face that same risk.
Police, prosecutorial, and judicial accountability
The St. Louis American has launched a multi-part series investigating the legal and political circumstances around the trial of Kevin Johnson, a Meacham Park man who was convicted as a teenager for the death of a Kirkwood police officer. Johnson’s execution date has been set for November 29, 2022. [St. Louis American/Sylvester Brown, Jr.]
For months, Kansas City-area police have denied that a serial killer was kidnapping and murdering Black women, but after one woman was able to escape, the police have doubled down on their purported investigation and assert that there is no link between the man arrested and other missing Black women. Kansas City Police Department, which is controlled by the State of Missouri, has notoriously-strict criteria before a missing person report could be initiated, oftentimes resulting in no reports being filed at all because of that procedure. [Missouri Independent/Mili Mansaray]
Local municipal governments across the State of Missouri are allocating federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to police departments for militarized equipment like sniper rifles, riot gear, ballistic helmets, and body scanners and to corrections departments to build new prisons. ARPA funds were created to prevent cuts in the public sector due to the pandemic, but instead have gone to increased police forces, bonuses, and new equipment. [The Marshall Project/Anastasia Valeeva & Susie Cagle]
A judge has lifted part of a stay order, allowing the St. Louis City Detention Facilities Oversight Board to continue operations and investigations while the legality of the Civilian Oversight Board moves through litigation. Judge Jason Sengheiser, a historically police-friendly judge, walked back part of a September order that blocked both oversight boards; the order is unclear on whether the Division of Civilian Oversight will be allowed to proceed forward. [Missouri Independent/Rebecca Rivas]
As the Missouri Department of Corrections continues to privatize its services to inmates, the rising cost of inflation inside of prisons has made it more difficult for the incarcerated and their families to access edible food and over-the-counter medication. Even basic hygiene items such as toothpaste and soap must be purchased at an excessively high cost, unless an inmate has jumped through procedural hoops to be found as indigent. [Missouri Independent/Casey Quinlan]
Economic development & housing
The Hazelwood School District announced that it is closing Jana Elementary School after an independent lab report detected radioactive contamination from World War II-era nuclear bomb development. Contamination was found in school classrooms, the cafeteria kitchen, air ventilation systems, and on playgrounds. [St. Louis Public Radio/Kate Grumke]
Last week, the St. Louis Department of Public Health announced that it has created a new behavioral health agency to address the City’s increasing demand for mental health services. The Behavioral Health Bureau will dedicate its first year to treating drug addictions and preventing overdoses, which claimed the lives of nearly 450 people in 2021. [St. Louis Public Radio/Sarah Fentem]
The Black HerStory Initiative, led by the Griot Museum of Black History, is honoring the contributions of 14 living Black women with “memory markers” on the grounds of the Griot and across the region. Women who will be recognized through the Black HerStory Initiative include Ollie Stewart, Jamala Rogers, Lois Conley, and Mayor Tishaura Jones. [St. Louis Public Radio/Chad Davis]
A legal challenge to the new Missouri voter ID law was dismissed by a Cole County judge for lack of standing. A separate lawsuit seeking to invalidate other parts of the law - like registration requirements to help voters update their registration and limitations to voter registration & outreach programs - is still pending. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Kurt Erickson]
In a ceremony earlier this week, the City of St. Louis presented a set of restored historical documents to a descendant of Dred and Harriet Scott, connecting to her ancestors and their time in Missouri. Documents included a deed of transfer when the Scotts were sold to a St. Louis slaveowner, the Scotts’ certificates of death, and a map indicating the location of Harriet Scott’s final home. [St. Louis Public Radio/Jeremy D. Goodwin]
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.
“Moscow Mills police chief called cops homophobic and sexist slurs, whistleblowers say,” by Katie Kull, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Police chief in Pike County, Mo., charged with drug trafficking after overdose death at his apartment,” by William E. Jones & Alexis J. Thone, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“St. Louis residents dig up remains after failed police search; department apologizes,” by Dana Rieck, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis City Board of Aldermen
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.
Resolution 113, also sponsored by Alds. Boyd and Howard, would raise SLMPD’s pay rates to match the pay rates of St. Louis County Police Department and would allow new perks to police officers not given to other City employees. The resolution passed out of the Public Safety Committee on October 12, 2022.