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How the Third Reconstruction is playing out in St. Louis

Published in the St. Louis American, March 2, 2023


Peniel Joseph calls it the Third Reconstruction. His latest book of the same name chronicles the cyclical and violent white backlash to Black progress in this country. You can see the highly coordinated, racist strategy being carried out across the country now—just as it has been in previous periods—to prove that Black people are unworthy of citizenship and incapable of governance. This is the unadulterated justification for upholding white supremacy by any means necessary.

The last couple of weeks of Black political happenings in St. Louis gave the rightwing steamroller some unneeded steam. Whatever is happening with and between Black elected officials pales in comparison to the calculated plan to derail the political and economic agenda of Black folks. It’s take-back time and all that cannot be taken back will be discredited or destroyed.

The tragedy revolving around Janae Edmondson deeply affected most of us who have any sense of humanity in our hearts. The 16-year-old had dreams of an athletic career. The athlete-scholar excelled in volleyball and basketball.

The reckless actions of Daniel Riley brought those dreams to a screeching halt when he caused the tragic accident involving the Edmondson family. Janae lost both her legs; she and her family face a long physical, psychological and financial recovery process.

Judge David Mason’s televised hearing of the Lamar Johnson case peeled back the layers of the corruption running amuck in the Circuit Attorney’s office at that time that led to Johnson’s conviction and too many others. The February 18 collision exposed similar contradictions in the criminal system.

We now know that Riley faced robbery charges and had been under house arrest at the time of the life-changing accident. The suspect had allegedly violated his monitoring system over 40 times. The mainstream media’s gaze immediately fell upon the Circuit Attorney’s Office. The source of this deliberate misinformation remains unknown.

Those who know this process attempted to correct and explain it: ONLY the judiciary can set and revoke bonds. In the Riley case, that would be Judge Bryan Hettenbach who refused to consider several requests by the CAO since 2020 to revoke the bond.

Even Riley’s defense attorney issued a statement to set the record straight. Terry Niehoff stated that Judge Hettenbach reviewed the case and “decided that the violations, although numerous, were not serious enough to take him [Riley] off bond.”

Neihoff’s voice and others who attempted to educate the public about judicial authority were drowned out by the roar of detractors who have made it their mission to amplify anything negative about Kim Gardner and her office. Facts have no place in this narrative.

On the heels of a joyous and righteous correction by the CAO to overturn the conviction of Lamar Johnson, the state attorney general started flexing his muscle. MO AG Andrew Bailey began legal efforts to remove Gardner from office.

This is the very same office which has refused to facilitate justice in wrongful convictions and death penalty cases for years. It took passing a state law to give local prosecutors the additional powers to pursue old cases of injustice. The office has routinely blocked the carriage of justice.

In the meantime, HB 301 is being fast-tracked in the state legislature with the city of St. Louis in mind. The bill calls for the governor to appoint a special prosecutor if he determines there’s a public health and safety threat. Translation: white people want to feel safe when they come to town for the sports arena and concerts. Mr. Governor, we all want to feel safe and secure anytime, anywhere in Missouri.

The persistent struggle of African Americans for racial equity, inclusion and prosperity continues to elude us. The factors that led to the failure of the first reconstruction were racist violence (by white citizens and police), suppression of the Black vote, the removal of democratically-elected and appointed Black officials, the enactment of repressive laws and policies, the lack of enforcement of existing laws to protect Black citizens and the indifference of white people to the appalling situation.

It appears that the ghosts of Reconstruction have come back to haunt us. It’s up to fair-minded people to make sure history stops repeating itself.


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