Rev. Darryl Gray

Thank you, St. Louis American, for publishing the excellent column by state Representatives Steven Roberts and Crystal Quade. I agree with them 100 percent that Missouri must make common sense reforms to policing, like banning chokeholds and improving training.

I also join them in calling for Gov. Parson to veto Senate Substitute for Senate Bill 600 (SB 600). This bill is projected to lock up 2500 more people, and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to know that a disproportionate number of those newly incarcerated would be black Missourians, given current data from our prisons.

African Americans are also disproportionately present in poverty statistics, not due to lack of effort on our part, but because of structural racism in education and employment. The fiscal note for the bill spells out that the public defender system “cannot assume that existing staff will provide effective representation for any new cases arising where indigent persons are charged” and “is currently providing legal representation in caseloads in excess of recognized standards.”

Inadequate defense separates parents from children for far too long in the black community and even causes the innocent to be incarcerated.

SB 600 has a “criminal street gang” section, which I would call dog-whistle language for young black men. This is shameful, but predictable election-year posturing. The bill pretends to “prevent” gang activity, but offers only punishment, instead of the interventions that experts recommend.

I ask Gov. Parson to veto SB 600 and to divert the millions of dollars in state resources that would be saved by doing so to community services, like mental health care, trauma-informed schools, and restorative justice programs. These can truly reduce violence and improve health among African Americans. Over-incarceration of black brothers and sisters leads to the opposite, for there can be no peace where there is no justice.

 

Rev. Darryl Gray

St. Louis

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