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A group protesting Gov. Mike Parson's legislative agenda for the special session came back to Jefferson City on Thursday afternoon. But unlike last week when eight people were arrested for peace disturbance or interfering with an arrest, no arrests occurred during the second visit.
"The People's State of the State-Part II," and the group that organizing it, ExpectUS or ExpectUsSTL365, came to the Capitol protesting the governor's agenda to address violent crime, especially violent crime in Missouri's largest cities.
Organizers said they had around 70 people from across the state come to Jefferson City, many from the St. Louis area, and they said they plan to come again next Thursday as the special session continues.
"I am very excited because this has been great for justice and for activism," said state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis City, who was among the leaders of Thursday's protest. "To see us moving from protest to politics is great, and to move from protest to policy is even better."
The group gathered on the south lawn of the Capitol, near the corner of Broadway and High streets, around 12:30 p.m. Pedestrian and vehicle traffic flowed normally downtown and around the Capitol as group leaders talked about why they were back and the need to continue to push for other alternatives than what they see being offered in the legislation being debated.
Aldridge said better education and health care choices are what need to be discussed in the Legislature to make meaningful change in their communities.
One of Parson's calls for lawmakers is to require courts to determine if a juvenile should be tried as an adult for unlawful use of a weapon and armed criminal action charges.
Courts may currently choose to have such an adult certification hearing if a child 12-17 years old has been charged with such a felony, but courts are not required to — unlike with other felonies including first-or second-degree murder, first-degree assault or first-degree robbery.
This was one of the protesters' main reasons for coming last week and again this week. They said children as young as 12 would be tried as adults, and Black youth would be targeted.
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Among those who came from St. Louis was Gina Torres. Her son, Isaiah Hammett, was killed in June 2017. Torres said he was killed by SWAT members during a raid.
"I feel that police shouldn't have immunity from prosecution because it could keep a bad cop on the beat and still be able to kill again," Torres said. "I want to be able to have some peace in my life and to see that another family doesn't have to go through what ours has."
The group on Thursday stayed outside the Capitol with Aldridge and other organizers leading the groups in various chants such as, "Everywhere we go; the people want to know; who we are; so we tell them; we are the people; the mighty, mighty people; fighting for justice; justice for the people."
"We're always non-violent," Aldridge said. "We don't say peaceful because we are angry and upset, but today, this was definitely non-violent."
The group eventually went into the Capitol and went through the security station as all visitors do. Once through there, they headed up to the top floor of the building and into the visitors' gallery of the Senate chamber where debate was going on over the special session legislation.
Among those speaking on the floor was state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, who acknowledged the group's presence in the chamber and agreed with their belief that the proposed legislation dealing with juveniles was "unacceptable."
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"You cannot have policy without activism," Nasheed said on the Senate floor. To show their agreement with Nasheed, the protesters snapped their fingers instead of clapping or cheering.
After approximately 20-30 minutes in the visitors gallery, the group stood up and began chants in the chamber and then filed out, going down to the first floor Rotunda to continue the protest. Members of the Missouri Highway Patrol and Capitol Police were watching the area where the group gathered from the second or third floor of the Rotunda.
"If we don't get no justice, then they don't get no peace," the group chanted as they moved through the Capitol.
Nasheed came out of the Senate to thank the group for coming and said, "You're willing to put your life on the line for what you believe in and that's how you know you're almost there — when you're not afraid to go to jail for a cause and when you understand that civil disobedience is the mother of change. They say you should be afraid to go to jail. What you should be afraid of is to go to jail for an unjust cause. This is not an unjust cause."
The protesters came out of the Capitol around 3 p.m. and gathered again for a few minutes on the lawn with Aldridge and other leaders, imploring those who came to get in contact with their friends and urge them to come next week.
"We want to continue to show the powers that be we need to continue to talk about change that we want to see in our communities," Aldridge said. "It's not just me as a legislator but it's other groups and activists all talking about this crime bill, which doesn't fix any crime in our cities."
The Jefferson City Police Department was patrolling around the Capitol and the entire downtown area Thursday while the protesters were in town. JCPD Capt. Eric Wilde said he was pleased with how Thursday's events went.
"They were able to come to Jefferson City and participate in the democratic process and no laws were broken," Wilde said. "Today was a good day, and it was a good statement about what our country is about. We appreciate that they plan to be back next week, and we appreciate the calm demeanor that they showed today."
Capitol Police Chief Zim Schwartze said they plan for all types of protests coming to the Capitol, and they welcome those who want to protest peacefully.
"The Office of Administration was aware they were here and touched base with the organizers so that we knew what they wanted to do," Schwartze said. "We appreciated the cooperation they showed."