Rep. Steve Roberts

On May 5, 2017, Tory Sanders ran out of gas on the outskirts of Charleston in Mississippi County, Missouri. When he called his mother and asked her what to do, she told him to ask the police for help. Sanders died the next day. 

He did nothing unlawful – but was taken into custody by the same police officers he believed would help him. He was tortured, beaten, tased, and pepper sprayed. He was killed less than 10 hours after being admitted to the Mississippi County Detention Center. He lived his last moments unable to breathe, with a policeman’s knee on his neck. 

There have been no charges filed in this case.

Along with Rod Chapel, the president of the Missouri NAACP, I have contacted the Missouri Attorney General’s Office several times, hoping for an update on the investigation into the killing of Tory Sanders. Each time, we’ve been told that the investigation is ongoing and the Attorney General’s Office cannot comment. Attorney General Eric Schmitt has not provided further information or guidance on the development of the investigation. 

On June 28, Patricia and Mark McCloskey stood outside their mansion in St. Louis’ Central West End and menaced peaceful protesters with a handgun and a military-style assault rifle. Images of the couple made national news and quickly circulated around the Internet – an all-too-perfect visual representation of our times. Subsequently, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office filed charges against the couple for threatening peaceful protesters.

Less than 24 hours after the charges were filed, Schmitt reacted by releasing a passionate statement asserting that, as Missouri’s chief law enforcement officer, he would immediately enter into this case and seek a dismissal. 

Schmitt’s actions in these two cases show unequivocally which he cares about and which Missourians he does not consider worthy of attention. 

The Attorney General’s Office did not investigate the incident involving the McCloskeys, and Schmitt’s actions are based on nothing more than a blind judgment on the merits. Governor Mike Parson has already spoken about pardoning the McCloskeys, which makes Schmitt’s actions even more baffling. A pardon would only take place if – after a presentation of the evidence – a jury found Mr. or Mrs. McCloskey guilty. Schmitt is attempting to circumvent the prosecution of the case altogether – without knowing the facts or with indifference to them. He is making it clear that his office does not care whether a crime was committed or not.  

Schmitt feels this incident is so important that he must take the unprecedented action of intervening in the case of a local prosecutor—while, at the same time, he feels that the murder of Tory Sanders is so insignificant that, three agonizing years later, his office has yet to take any action at all. Schmitt responds immediately to a case of rich white lawyers waving guns around on the lawn of their mansion, while he delays any form of justice for a Black man killed in police custody.  

Unfortunately, this attention to certain lives and disregard for others is not an exception, but the rule. These two cases serve as undeniable examples of the systematic racism that permeates this nation.

Tory Sanders was a father, husband, and son. His life was taken while he was in police custody. His family deserves justice – which, at the very least, includes a comprehensive examination of the case and an honest effort to seek justice. 

The McCloskeys are neither indigent nor need the backing of the Attorney General’s Office; they have already hired counsel and are among the wealthiest lawyers in the state. They face a charge for which they are already being offered diversion. Yet, Schmitt acted on their behalf without conducting any investigation. 

This is the unfortunate reality of Black people and other minorities in this country. Indifference is as great a problem as hatred, perhaps more so. 

The McCloskeys are going to be all right. In one of the chief ironies of the situation, they were never in danger. Tory Sanders, on the other hand, is still dead. His young children will never know their father. The disparity in how Schmitt has handled these two cases lays bare which lives truly matter in Missouri.

“Enough is enough,” Schmitt said in a video posted to Twitter.

Enough is enough, indeed.

Steve Roberts (D-St. Louis) represents District 77 in the Missouri House of Representatives and chairs the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus.

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