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Race & Justice News: St. Louis Prosecutor Fights “Racially Motivated Conspiracy”

February 03, 2020
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner alleges some city leaders have tried to undermine her efforts to fight police misconduct and reform the local criminal justice system. Gardner, St. Louis’s first African American top prosecutor, is suing the city under an 1871 federal civil rights law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act.

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St. Louis Prosecutor Sues City Leaders for “Racially Motivated Conspiracy”

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner alleges some city leaders have tried to undermine her efforts to fight police misconduct and reform the local criminal justice system, report The New York Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Gardner, St. Louis’s first African American top prosecutor, is suing the city under an 1871 federal civil rights law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act. The lawsuit alleges that this law “was adopted to address precisely this scenario: a racially-motivated conspiracy to deny the civil rights of racial minorities by obstructing a government official’s efforts to ensure equal justice under law for all.” Her lawsuit names city officials, the local police union, and a special prosecutor—who investigated her office’s investigation of former governor Eric Greitens—as being part of this conspiracy. Gardner’s efforts to reform the city’s justice system have been shunned by local law enforcement as she works to end police misconduct, limit the incarceration of people convicted of nonviolent offenses, and rebuild trust within communities of color.

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While her opponents have dismissed her suit as “frivolous,” other black female prosecutors say they’ve shared similar experiences. “The keepers of the status quo that brought us mass incarceration, the over-criminalization of poor black and brown people, tough sentences, no redemption, and no second chances won’t give up their power quietly,” said Marilyn Mosby, chief prosecutor of Baltimore. The Ethical Society of Police, an organization representing mostly black police officers in St. Louis, has also voiced support for Gardner’s suit saying there is “a long history of racial discrimination” within the city’s police department that the city has failed to acknowledge. This lawsuit “is about making sure reform-minded prosecutors are able to do their job without fear or retaliation,” explained Gardner.

NH Supreme Court: Defendant’s Race Informs Assessment of Police Seizure

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled that race can be considered when determining if someone was not free to leave—and was therefore seized—in encounters with the police, announced the New Hampshire ACLU. In this case, Ernest Jones argued that two Concord police officers seized him without reasonable suspicion or a warrant while he was sitting in a parked pickup truck, according to the Associated Press. The officers asked Jones, who is African American, for identification and arrested him once they learned that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. They also found drugs upon searching him. Although the state Attorney General’s office argued that the defendant was seized only after police learned about the warrant and that he was previously free to leave, the ACLU argued in an amicus brief, “Black people reasonably feel disempowered in their interactions with police.” The Supreme Court found in favor of the defendant and reversed his drug conviction, stating: “Although we reach our conclusion irrespective of the defendant’s race, we observe that race is an appropriate circumstance to consider in conducting the totality of the circumstances seizure analysis.”

Black Drivers Face Highest Rate of Stops and Searches in California

Black drivers in California are stopped and searched by law enforcement at higher rates than whites and Latinos, according to the Los Angeles Times. A six-month analysis of the state’s eight largest law enforcement agencies from the state Department of Justice found that black drivers comprised 15% of all stops in California, but they are only 6% of the total state population. In comparison, white and Latinos drivers face stop rates that are mostly proportional to population estimates. The report also found that 19% of stopped black drivers were searched—over three times the rate for whites. The data revealed that officers were most likely to find contraband when searching white drivers.

The state report was the first examination of police stops released under a 2015 state law. “The data released further verifies what we know to be true about racial profiling happening here in L.A. and throughout California by the police. People of color, especially black people, aren’t surprised,” said community activist Alberto Retana.

Minnesota Prisons Disproportionately Place Blacks and Native Americans in Solitary

Last year, Minnesota prisons placed blacks and Native Americans in solitary confinement at higher rates than whites, reports the Star Tribune. While African Americans and Native Americans comprised 49% of the general prison population, they accounted for 58% of those held in solitary. “And despite the state’s work to curb the use of solitary,” write reporters Andy Mannix and Jeff Hargarten, “some prisoners are still spending more than a year in isolation.”

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These facts are drawn from a first-of-its-kind report from the Department of Corrections to the Minnesota Legislature, as required by a new law designed to reform and bring more transparency to how the state uses long-term isolation. Paul Schnell, commissioner of corrections, plans to investigate these issues with prison staff.

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