A newly formed group of concerned Jefferson City residents rallied outside the Missouri state Capitol late Monday morning as lawmakers prepared for a special session to address violent crime.
Gov. Mike Parson called for the special session to address what has been described as a surge in violent crime in Missouri's largest cities. For example, Kansas City has seen a 35 percent increase in homicides during the same time last year, while St. Louis has seen a 31 percent increase.
The Jefferson City Racial Equity Group formed after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer, group spokeswoman Jan Schumacher said.
"Today was the perfect opportunity with the legislative session — the special session — to come and express our views," Schumacher said, "and remind the Legislature that we need to think about how the actions they take would affect Black people."
The organization is encouraging the Legislature to take steps to reduce crime, rather than just punishing it, she said.
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"The governor's agenda is merely punitive and does nothing to lower violent crime and get lethal weapons out of the hands of violent persons," a Racial Equity Group news release said. "Pursuing the failed policies of mass incarceration from the 1980s and 1990s will not help lower violent crime, and will be a waste of time and resources."
Because of overcrowding in its prisons, about two years ago, Missouri administrators considered the possibility of building a new prison to house inmates. But sentencing reforms reduced the burden on its prisons and led to closures of a state prison and multiple buildings within prisons, including buildings at Algoa and Tipton correctional centers in Mid-Missouri.
Expansion of the prison system may be in the cards again if Parson's plan is followed, critics said Monday.
Parson is calling on lawmakers to:
- Eliminate a requirement that St. Louis officers live in the city.
- Require courts to determine if a juvenile should be tried as an adult for certain weapons charges.
- Allow certain statements by witnesses to be admissible in court that currently aren't.
- Create a Pre-Trial Witness Protection Fund.
- Criminalize knowingly encouraging, aiding or causing a child younger than 17 to engage in a weapons offense.
- Increase the penalty for a person who knowingly sells or delivers a firearm to a child without the consent of a parent or guardian.
The Racial Equity Group is concerned people, particularly minorities, will be incarcerated and the Legislature will not be looking at the causes of violence, Schumacher said. A concern is that lawmakers would come to an apparent "quick and easy fix," she said.
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The group wants well-thought-out and effective resolutions to violence, she said.
"I'd like to see (lawmakers) work with the Legislative Black Caucus — and work together on measures that would be most effective and fair," she said. "There are concerns about increasing punishment, because that's not shown to be a deterrent to crime."
There is widespread backing of the governor's call for support of a witness protection program, Schumacher said. But the Racial Equity Group and the governor differ on treating more juveniles as adults.
The state needs to step back and look at ending the militarization of police. It needs to look at training, and it needs to keep track of "bad actors," Schumacher said.
"They need to be held accountable," she said. "We're not anti-police in any way. We need police. We support the police. We just need reform so it's fair and equitable for everyone."