Missouri’s General Assembly and executive branch have moved into political chaos, following a pair of racially insensitive proclamations to Special Session by Governor Mike Parson. These came on the heels of signing Senate Bill 600, a “get tough on crime” package of measures that repeat mass incarceration failures of the past that had racially disparate impact. Presently, African Americans constitute 12% of state residents, but 34% of people in Missouri prisons according to an incarceration trends summary from the Vera Institute of Justice.
The Special Session comes during a pandemic that has taken a severe toll on African American and Latinx communities. Transmission of COVID-19 and deaths from coronavirus are especially high in these communities. People of Color also are being disproportionately harmed by the economic downturn, according to this report issued by the Coalition on Human Needs and Empower Missouri.
Gov. Parson has missed the real needs of our current moment:
- Responding to the public health emergency and related devastating recession, and
- Leading our state in sincere apology and offering amends for the legacy of racial injustice in our state and nation, with decade after decade of aggressive segregationist public policy, advantaging white communities at the expense of African Americans and other People of Color.
The racial insensitivity of this Governor and General Assembly, should they continue to pass his legislative priorities as they did with Senate Bill 600, is clear:
The Governor refused to call a Special Session on policing reform at the request of the Legislative Black Caucus, following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others a few weeks ago.
Changes are being proposed to put more children through adult certification hearings, even though we know that, according to 2017 court data, Black children were almost six times more likely to be certified as adults than white children.
The Governor’s demand that the Missouri Attorney General be allowed to prosecute certain homicides in the City of St. Louis would disempower the only elected Black female prosecutor in our state. Kim Gardner, the first African American elected to be St. Louis City’s Circuit Attorney, won her party’s nomination for re-election to her seat with sixty percent of the votes in the August 4 Primary Election.
As Professor Kenya Brumfield-Young of St. Louis University has written: “What should be considered is placing long-term strategic policies in place identifying long-term preventative strategies….It is vital to operate several community-based programs that help meet the fundamental needs of marginalized communities, empower people to continue to engage in community programs, and provide more positive outlets for community youths.….As a society, we cannot incarcerate our way through this, and we should stop trying.”
Please take action today to ask your state representative and senator to vote no on Senate Bill 1 and any other “get tough” solutions that miss the real point. We must tend to first things first at this critical moment, and the public health emergency and racial healing are our most pressing needs.