Guardians of the status quo – like Missouri’s Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt, the reactionaries at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards – are doing what they always do when their systems of power are called into question: they are resorting to scare tactics.
In the 1970s, it was “welfare queens” robbing you of your hard-earned money. In 1988, it was Willie Horton lurking around the corner. And, now, it’s the scourge of hardened “criminals” roaming the streets. These headlines sell papers, they win elections, and they concentrate power. If only the headlines weren’t a lie.
We have questions.
Why are their attacks so narrowly focused on St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner?
According to both the Post’s “reporting” and the attorney general’s letter, the outcomes they found so unacceptable were orders of recognizance bonds and reduced bond amounts. As one would hope the Post-Dispatch, the attorney general (a licensed lawyer), and the Public Safety director (a former judge) would know, those final decisions are made by judges, not prosecutors.
Why shouldn't judges use their discretion to release those "presumed innocent" but too poor to pay the bonds that a wealthier person would have paid long ago? Are Jimmie Edwards and Eric Schmitt writing angry letters to the judges, too? Or does that not suit their political purpose?
Why so much talk about “fears of” danger? A Post-Dispatch editorial decries “ramp[ing] up public fears even more.” Schmitt lectures that government shouldn’t be “creating either the perception or the reality that violent offenders are being released unmonitored into their communities.” If this danger were a reality, he wouldn’t be talking about perception at all.
And the perception is one that he and others are manufacturing. We have a suggestion: stop it.
One more question.
Why is it that this crew of unelected public officials and commentators feels emboldened to give lectures on criminal justice policy to the prosecutors that we elected? Say what you will about our prosecutors in the city and county of St. Louis—and we do have things to say—they were both democratically elected by landslides.
Their critics? A Public Safety director whom no one elected. The unelected and virtually anonymous editorial board of a newspaper. And an attorney general who was appointed when his predecessor landed a better gig.
Simply put: when it comes to criminal justice policy in the St. Louis region, we didn’t ask you.
We believe that prosecutors have a responsibility, especially at this crisis moment, to do everything they can to release people from the cages we call jails—not only for the safety and health of the people behind bars but for the safety and health of every single one of us who face a common enemy in a presently untreatable and incurable virus. To the extent that prosecutors are doing that, we fully support and appreciate their efforts. To the extent they are not, we should all be calling on them to do more.
But we should not give any credence to the predictable hysteria of people who think empty jail cells signal the end of civilization.
The St. Louis Prosecutor Accountability Roundtable is a collective of advocacy organizations focused on accountability for the elected prosecutors of St. Louis city and county. These organizations include: Action St. Louis, ACLU of Missouri, ArchCity Defenders, Close the Workhouse Campaign, Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression, Color of Change, Metropolitan Congregations United, Missouri Faith Voices, Missouri State Conference of the NAACP, Missourians Against the Death Penalty, Movement Voter Project, Organization for Black Struggle, and Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center.