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 candidates seeking election for a full term as lieutenant governor Nov. 3 about their positions on some of the proposals of a state Senate bill that sought to address issues raised by what's happened this year.
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 that 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 lieutenant governor candidates about their positions on SB 16's proposals, in 100 words or fewer on each of the four proposals mentioned.
Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe said if legislation similar to SB16 is filed in the upcoming legislative session, "it will be considered, discussed and debated, with opportunities for proponents and opponents to make changes. I support law enforcement, recognizing they have a very difficult and dangerous job where they put their lives on the line during every shift. However, I also understand there is room for every organization and every employee to improve. I will always support measures that increase their training and readiness, including adopting and improving upon best practices to improve relationships and interactions with citizens. I will not support measures that defund law enforcement, or unnecessarily make their challenging work even more difficult and complex."
Libertarian candidate Bill Slantz said on the use of force proposal: "Of the four, this measure seems most questionable. The use of force is a terrible responsibility. Libertarians hold non-initiation of force dear, and yet we hold dear the rule of law.
"The Black Lives Matter movement has done good service to bring to light the need for criminal justice reform.
"I am proud of the justice plank of the Missouri Libertarian platform, though it needs constant attention as do police policies and training, particularly the need for de-escalation training," Slantz said.
On the choke-hold ban, Slantz said: "As Larry Sharpe, a Black podcaster and well- respected former Libertarian candidate for governor of New York, pointed out, the objection to chokeholds has roots in Black culture. I respect his opinion.
"I also liked the acronym he came up with to highlight four ways to reform criminal justice, some requiring federal action — QICC: Qualified Immunity (end it); Insurance (police carry their own liability policies); Cannabis (off of schedule I); Civil Asset Forfeiture (reduce/eliminate)."
AG candidates discuss police accountabilityRead more
On no-knock warrants, Slantz said: "I suspect this wouldn't be an issue and much of what ails our criminal justice system if we would just end the war on drugs."
On use of force by private citizens, Slantz said: "A strong castle doctrine to allow individuals to protect their property appeals to Libertarians."
Green Party candidate Kelley Dragoo said of SB 16: "I support these proposed measures to hold police and private citizens accountable for their use of deadly force. However, private citizens' property should have no rights under this bill and certainly no more than a person.
"I do not believe this bill goes far enough to restrain and hold responsible law enforcement as a whole and as individuals. Funding for the police needs to be removed and reallocated to better serve our communities through more comprehensive training and welfare-based programs. In addition, murders perpetrated under the guise of 'law and order' need to be reviewed by an independent board."
Democratic candidate Alissia Canady did not provide a response in time for publication.