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The St. Louis Reform Prosecutor is Out

Published by, May 11, 2023


In the post-Ferguson Uprising period, urban communities across the country began changing the political landscape by electing prosecutors with an agenda for fairness and justice. In the not-to-distant past, prosecutors racked up as many convictions as they could by any means necessary under the guise of fighting crime. At the heart of this reform movement was the unshakable demand to put police in check and hold them accountable for their lawlessness.

For those of us fighting for abolition, the campaigns to reimage public safety organically moved to calls to de-fund the public or to re-invest in program and services for people (whichever term was more palatable in your town). On the way to abolition, it means holding police accountable for their violence and corruption.

The police murders of Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Atatiana Jefferson, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and a host of others gave the abolitionist movement a big boost from all the energy channeled for transformative change of the police, courts and prison. That energy was met with the brick wall of blue, as law enforcement unions and associations began to double-down on their resistance to any meaningful change for communities of color. And given their level of organization, they are beating back any progress made in the last decade.

St. Louis City and St. Louis County elected their first African American prosecutors after the murder of Mike Brown by a Ferguson, MO cop.

Wesley Bell unseated the white incumbent of nearly thirty years in St. Louis County. Bob McCullough’s father was a cop who was killed by a Black man. Many believed he used his office to extract revenge for his father’s death. Black people who came through his court were unmercifully prosecuted and given severe sentences. The Democratic prosecutor still pompously boasts about the 23 souls he put on death row during his regime.

Kim Gardner was the first Black, female prosecutor in the city. From Day One, she hit the ground running with the wind of a wildly enthusiastic community behind her back, remaining steadfast in its support of the office carrying out the reform agenda. That’s why Gardner’s announcement of her resignation last week felt like a punch in our communal gut.

The twice democratically elected circuit attorney had made a brief appearance just days before the announcement at her office’s roundtable on youth. She vowed never to quit and to keep moving forward on behalf of her constituency. Gardner received a rousing ovation from the audience for her recommitment in the face of ongoing brutal attacks. But in the end, the Republican strategy proved successful.

As the first Black, female prosecutor in the City of St. Louis, Gardner came into office in 2017 with a community-inspired, justice-centered reform agenda. She immediately became a target of the racist right-wing who have spent countless hours weaponizing whatever she said and did against her. They spent millions of taxpayers’ dollars challenging her law license. Their relentless pursuit was focused and intentionally destructive. Their character assassination efforts were public and ruthless. Clarence “Tom” Thomas, this is an example of a high-tech lynching!

The attacks didn’t stop with the announcement of Gardner’s resignation. A now-emboldened unelected, state attorney general, Kevin Bailey, declared the June 1 effective resignation date as not soon enough. Trust and believe, if Kim Gardner left now, she would be accused of a reckless and irresponsible departure.

The televised hearing for wrongfully convicted Lamar Johnson and the recent CBS special on his case exposed the years of corruption in the circuit attorney’s office. It has been a well-documented, but mainly hidden, dysfunctional office for the last fifty years of prosecutorial misconduct. The main differences now are the social media that exposes the injustices and woke voters who demand accountability. There has never been an acknowledgment of the years of mess that Gardner inherited.

St. Louis continues to hold onto its antebellum style of governance where white men with power carry out their wishes, disregarding ethics or rules of order. They have demonstrated their skill in manipulating the narrative, elected officials and legislative processes to suit their needs. City-wide Democrats watched the blatant disenfranchisement of voters without so much as a peep. They witnessed the unprecedented act of the unseating of a peer by another party.

There are many communities who had built some momentum in this arena and who must now fight on two fronts. One, to defend their gains against a highly entrenched racist system motivated to protect its narrow self-interests. Two, to reorganize around an updated strategy that includes expanding our base to engage in a long-term battle that slows down the bourgeoning police state.

Communities may concede the painful loss of one round, but there are still rounds left in this battle. We are in training, building more muscle for endurance and developing a new strategies for the current political realities. The People must always be the victors, not a few in the minority – usurping and abusing power with the aid of their minions.

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