The News Tribune reports on elections to equip community members with the tools they need to participate in democracy. That includes sharing candidates' positions on important issues and making information about the voting process accessible. For full coverage of local candidates in the November 2020 election, visit newstribune.com/election.
Amid a year when the nation has faced public health and economic catastrophe, several high-profile deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement or citizens have also catalyzed a push for legal changes, including in Missouri.
The News Tribune asked the four gubernatorial candidates seeking election for a full term as governor Nov. 3 about their positions on some of the proposals of a state Senate bill that sought to address issues raised by this year's events.
Ahmaud Arbery died in February in Georgia — cellphone video of his killing leaked online in early May — after three white men pursued the 25-year-old running in their neighborhood and shot him, telling police they suspected Arbery was a burglar, according to the Associated Press. The men were arrested and indicted on murder charges after the video leaked.
Breonna Taylor was shot in March in Louisville, Kentucky, during an exchange of gunfire between police and her boyfriend as officers entered her home during a narcotics investigation. The no-knock warrant used to search her home was connected to a suspect who did not live there, and no drugs were found inside. One officer was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment for shooting into a home next to Taylor's with people inside.
George Floyd died May 25 as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for several minutes. That officer was charged with murder.
Floyd's death in particular sparked nationwide protests that sometimes turned violent — from crimes against people and property, police action to contain crowds through the use of tear gas and projectiles, or both. The protests after Floyd's death also became a focal point for fears and concerns raised by the deaths of Arbery, Taylor and others, and led to calls for change.
The Missouri Legislative Black Caucus in June called upon Gov. Mike Parson to consider legislation in a special session to address legal immunity for police, ban the use of chokeholds and carotid holds and establish a legal duty for police to report fellow law enforcement officers' misconduct.
Parson in July called a special session to address violent crime through legislation intended to strengthen tools for law enforcement and prosecutors, but the session did not include police reform as a topic, which Parson has said would be better suited for regular legislative session.
State Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City, also a Black Caucus member, filed SB 16 in the session, however, and the legislation included modifications to the standards for the use of deadly force, a ban on the use of carotid restraints and chokeholds, limitation of the use of no-knock warrants and a ban on private citizens pursuing an aggressor who flees — though citizens could use physical force in self-defense or defense of property or to detain an aggressor until law enforcement arrives.
More specifically, a law enforcement officer could not use deadly force to make an arrest unless a person displayed "aggravated aggressive resistance and the officer has an objectively reasonable belief that the person poses an imminent threat to the officer or others," or to prevent the escape of a person suspected of a violent felony who the officer has probable cause to think poses a threat to the officer or others.
No-knock warrants would also be limited to be used only "if there is a reasonable suspicion that the suspect of a violent felony offense will escape or cause bodily harm to others."
The News Tribune asked the four gubernatorial candidates about their positions on SB 16's proposals, in 100 words or fewer, on each of the four proposals mentioned.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson, a former sheriff, said, "My administration has been committed to addressing violent crime that has plagued our urban areas for decades. Over the last two and a half years, I have been meeting with leaders in urban areas to discuss solutions to address it.
"I signed into law an anti-crime bill to create tougher penalties for criminals and witness protection legislation. We have supported Attorney General Schmitt's Safer Streets initiative. We pushed the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission to conduct statewide listening sessions to get feedback from law enforcement and the community and create new and better systems for training going forward."
State Auditor and Democratic candidate Nicole Galloway said, "I support common sense criminal justice and policing reforms," and pointed to an agenda for Black Missourians on her campaign's website.
Galloway added, "In fact, I worked closely with Sen. Brian Williams to turn some of these proposals into what became Senate Bill 16."
Libertarian candidate Rik Combs said, "I definitely support various law enforcement reforms and standardized training across the board, including (but not limited to) use of deadly force parameters, limitations or barring carotid or chokehold maneuvers, restrictions on no-knock warrants, and a clarification of what private citizens are legally able to accomplish.
"I do support peace officers at all levels, and am firmly in the corner of private citizens and their ability to protect themselves and others/loved ones. I do not condone police brutality, as most right-minded Missourians would agree, but individuals who do not display professionalism must be removed from peace officer positions."
Green Party candidate Jerome Bauer said, "If we criminalize everything, everybody's a criminal. Let's treat violence and addiction, to the extent possible, as mental and public health issues, not criminal justice problems.
"How do we cure violence? St. Louis is experimenting with an epidemiological model. Let's look also to the New Orleans Ethical Policing Is Courageous program, training police to police themselves and each other. Let's end racial profiling, and let's have a civilian oversight board with subpoena power in every municipality that will give officers accused of inappropriate force a fair hearing."
On chokeholds, Bauer said: "Let's ban chokeholds. Officers should be trained in de-escalation."
On no-knock warrants, Bauer said: "Let's ban no-knock warrants. Please de-militarize our police. Cops are not warriors. Towns don't need tanks, nor do they need surveillance technology that should be reserved only for those with the highest level of security clearance, if even for them. Let's take back the Fourth Amendment that protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures."
On use of force by private citizen, Bauer said: "People have a right to defend themselves and their property. That said, vigilante justice should always be a last resort. Police work is dangerous and difficult and should be left to professionals. If police work ever becomes so disreputable that only the dregs of society will want to do it, we'll have to resort to vigilante justice. Rich people and corporations will have all the police protection that money can buy, while the poor and disabled will fend for ourselves. Let's have one law for one Missouri."