Blake Strode

Blake Strode

Executive Director     

ArchCity Defenders  

St. Louis

Pattonville High School

University of Arkansas, BSBA,International Economics, BA, Spanish;

Harvard Law School, JD

The Missouri Bar

Tell us about the mission and work of ArchCity Defenders.

ArchCity Defenders (ACD) is a holistic legal advocacy organization that combats the criminalization of poverty and state violence, especially in communities of color. ACD’s foundation of civil and criminal legal representation, social services, impact litigation, policy and media advocacy, and community collaboration achieves and inspires justice and equitable outcomes for people throughout the St. Louis region and beyond.

ACD was founded in 2009 to fill a gap in legal services and advocacy for poor and unhoused individuals in the St. Louis region. We have increasingly adopted a focus on racial justice as one of the most pressing and fundamental needs in this region in order to create the conditions for equity and universal opportunity. Some of our core areas of work are criminal justice, housing, and homelessness. In collaboration with clients and community partners, we are working toward a world in which people like our clients are liberated from the systems that oppress them and their families.

Why was it important for you to return to St. Louis? What propelled you to choose civil rights work with underserved, poor and homeless clients versus working at a traditional firm?

I did not always intend to return to St. Louis, but when I saw the inspiring courage and commitment of people who took to the streets during the Ferguson Uprising, I knew that this was the place that I wanted to make an impact. I went to law school knowing that I aspired to be a force for social justice in the world, and I never assumed that the place to do that was a major law firm. I struggled during law school to decide what practice area and type of advocacy best fit my interests and passions, and I am deeply grateful that I discovered the work of ArchCity Defenders in my final year as a law student.

What are ArchCity’s top advocacy priorities on police and judicial reform?

I always find it difficult to name our top priorities because all of the challenges our clients face are so interrelated. In terms of policing, I believe we are in a moment in which we have to think critically about the role that the institution of policing plays in our society and how we can better meet our collective needs with alternative institutions that are not inherently violent and punishment-oriented. To date, much of our work in this sphere has been to problematize harmful and abusive policing practices, and I do think this has spurred important critical dialogue in this region. But we also have to invest in communities and supportive systems differently if we actually want to create lasting transformation.

With respect to courts and jails, one of our priorities continues to be ending the inhumane and destructive practices of wealth-based detention. Whether in the form of fines and fees, cash bail, or jail “board bills,” these practices have no place in a free democratic society.

You played professional tennis before attending law school. Do you still enjoy playing?

I wish! I play very rarely these days, though I think I would like to get back in the routine. I still watch it any chance I get.

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