Immigration: We Lose When We Slam the Door
May 13, 2021
Speakers: Anna Crosslin, former president and CEO, International Institute of St. Louis; Marie Kenyon, Director, Peace and Justice Commission, Archdiocese of St. Louis; Sr. Sandy Straub, CSJ
“Nobody wants to leave their country and walk 1,700 miles,” said Sr. Straub, sharing her recent experience working at Annunciation House’s Casa del Refugiado (House of the Refugee), a shelter in El Paso, TX. Many of the refugees she met there had risked their lives to travel from Honduras to the U.S. border because they were desperate to protect their families. One man’s 16-year-old daughter had been kidnapped by a cartel; he had paid an exorbitant ransom for her return. A pregnant mother and her five children arrived with no money and only the clothes on their backs. “These are human persons who suffer,” Straub said. “We could be more efficient and kind” in our immigration system.
The immigration system is dependent on policies promulgated by the U.S. president and attorney general, Marie Kenyon explained, and she debunked common “myths” about the system with accurate information:
- Immigrants cannot easily bring in many family members. Petitions to bring family members into the country are limited to only spouse, parents, children, and siblings. A person applying for a visa for a family member must also assume financial responsibility for the member.
- A green card holder is not a citizen, but a permanent resident. The person cannot apply for citizenship (naturalization) for five years.
- It takes many years and is not easy to obtain a permanent visa. The State Department is currently reviewing some applications from 1996. To obtain citizenship, applicants must prove they can speak English, pass a difficult history and civics test, undergo a medical examination and a criminal background check, and pay a hefty filing fee.
- “Anchor baby” is a false term. A child born in the United States cannot apply for their parents to get a green card until the child reaches age 21.
- Only a small percentage of undocumented people have come across the border without a visa. They must go to court to present their case and explain why they fled their home country. Without a lawyer, they have virtually no chance of winning. With a lawyer, only 10% to 20% win because it is difficult to prove a case for asylum. For example, the attorney general under the previous administration threw out domestic violence as a reason.
The current anti-immigration sentiment is not new, according to Anna Crosslin. In 1924, U.S. immigration quotas were first established and were designed to eliminate certain populations and favor Northern Europeans. Immigrant visas have declined significantly since 2017, Crosslin said, because categories of people eligible for admission, which favored Christians, were a mismatch for the need. The categories should be changed, she said.
Crosslin related St. Louis’s historic role in helping immigrants. The International Institute, founded here in 1919 to aid refugee women and children from war-torn Europe, now serves whole families at 18 autonomous sites across the country. The St. Louis organization served 5,000 people in 2020.
Here are some organizations you can contact to learn more about their efforts and how you can help: International Institute of St. Louis, www.iistl.org. The St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America (IFCLA), www.ifcla.org. IFCLA is inviting groups or congregations to sign onto a “Pathway to Citizenship for Essential Workers” letter. Annunciation House, www.annunciationhouse.org. Catholic Charities, www.catholiccharities.org/helpingmigrantchildren.
Reginald Dwayne Betts: From Jail to Yale
April 22, 2021
Reginald Dwayne Betts shared his views of the prison system, policing, and justice reform in a wide-ranging conversation led by Carol Daniel of KMOX News. His insights, informed by his remarkable journey from prison to his current life as an attorney, poet, teacher, and father, inspired ideas for changing police relations with communities of color to create a just legal system. (See more about Betts’s life below.)
Discussing the conviction for the murder of George Floyd, Betts said the trial showed that as a society “we need to come to grips with the issue of punishment when we have this kind of tragedy and there is no expectation of punishment.”
Gains in police reform give him hope, especially the police testimony in the trial, he said. But we need more solutions to move forward, including the resources to address problems such as police inability to communicate with citizens and engage with the community.
He said social workers working with police would give police a reflection on their actions and help them approach issues in a different way.
Restorative justice is another solution. Using his own case as an example, Betts said the stress of surviving in prison gave him no time to reflect on the harm he had caused. An agreement that provided constructive ways other than prison for him to make recompense for his crime might have benefited both him and the man he robbed.
Betts said all prisons–federal, state, and private—should ensure that prisoners can be productive when they return to society. To that end, his Million Book Project (see below) is establishing libraries in prisons. Their design incorporates seating areas where people can interact with books. If prisoners can see something else than just cells, he believes they can become something else.
Betts’s latest poetry collection, Felon, is available at EyeSeeMe and other local independent book stores.
More on Reginald Dwayne Betts:
At age 16, Betts was involved in a carjacking and sentenced to nine years in prison. When a friend slipped him a copy of The Black Poets, he was inspired to write poetry.
After his release, he earned a master of fine arts degree at Warren Wilson College. He went on to Yale Law School, where he graduated at the top of his class, and then was admitted to the Connecticut Bar. He has written acclaimed poetry collections: Felon, Bastards of the Reagan Era, and Shahid Reads His Own Palm. In his memoir, A Question of Freedom, he describes how imprisonment threatened to break his humanity. Instead, he has turned himself into a poet, scholar, and advocate for the reform of the criminal justice system.
Betts has founded The Million Book Project to establish libraries in prisons across the country.
On Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021, the Washington Post published an opinion piece Betts wrote, titled, “If we truly believe in redemption and second chances, parole should be celebrated.”
In this commentary Betts talks about the need for parole and says that he does not minimize the severity of the crimes committed but can attest to the reform and personal growth of prisoners he met.
From the commentary: “Last spring, when Vincent Lamont Martin was released from prison on parole, I was 39 years old, and he’d been in prison every day of my life. Word was that Martin had gone more than three decades without a single institutional infraction — not even for failing to stand for count. I did time in several Virginia prisons, and I can’t imagine going 30 years without once being too exhausted or depressed or frustrated to get on my feet for count. According to the Virginia Parole Board, a correctional officer said that ‘over the decades, there are numerous instances of Vincent Martin preventing fights, stabbings, and deaths all because it was the right thing to do. Never have I seen an offender demand peace like Vincent Martin does.’…The integrity of the Virginia Parole Board was questioned. An investigation followed. Lawmakers called for board members to resign, ostensibly for failing to provide proper notice of their actions, and a Republican candidate for state attorney general proposed abolishing parole for violent offenders. Equally predictable: No one talked about who Martin is today. It only mattered what he’d been convicted of doing over four decades ago.” Read the full commentary here.
More on Carol Daniel:
Daniel, a news reporter who recently celebrated 26 years at KMOX, has just been named as a member of a team to fill the slot of Rush Limbaugh at KMOX with a new show, “St. Louis Talks.” The show will “report and react on local, regional and national topics that affect our community.” Daniel said she wants to give listeners “stories about the people, places and things in the region we all love, but want so much more out of.”
What Would You Do with $250,000+? Diversity, the Gender Pay Gap, and You
March 11, 2021
Speakers: Ana Hernández Kent, PhD, Senior Researcher, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; Robin Lucas, Grassroots Advocacy Manager, American Association of University Women (AAUW)
Sharing their research on the gender pay gap in the United States, our knowledgeable speakers demonstrated how the gap significantly harms women and their families throughout their lifetime. (The gender pay gap is the difference in men’s and women’s median earnings, working full-time for an entire year.)
On an average, women are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to men; the gap is wider for women of color. In 2019, White, non-Hispanic women held 55.9% of White male wealth; Black, non-Hispanic women held 5.2%; and Hispanic women of any race held 10%. Because of lower Social Security and pension benefits, women’s retirement is only 70% of men’s, suggesting the pay gap affects women’s economic security now and long term.
Despite legislation in the 20th century to protect women, wage discrimination continues today, largely because of social factors:
- Occupational segregation. Women-dominated careers are less valued than male-dominated ones. Fifteen of the 20 highest-paying jobs are dominated by men, and 14 of the 20 lowest-paying jobs are dominated by women.
- Direct gender and racial discrimination.
- Motherhood penalty. Women with children are paid and hired less than childless women. The pay gap is widest for women ages 55 to 64.
- Women in high-level executive positions are paid less than their male counterparts.
Women have fared worse in the COVID-19 pandemic than men. They work in the hardest-hit industries, have fewer benefits such as paid sick leave, have disproportionate responsibility for caring for others, and have less wealth to fall back on if they lose their job or have more child care expenses. The speakers said more than 2.3 million women have dropped out of the workforce (stopped looking for a job) and almost 2 million more are unemployed (seeking employment) during the pandemic.
What You Can Do
The speakers urged us to support three pieces of legislation by using social media, contacting our members of Congress, writing letters to the editor, and sharing our experiences with others:
- Paycheck Fairness Act provides tools and employer incentives to fight discriminatory pay practices.
- Raise the Wage Act raises the minimum wage (two-thirds of minimum-wage workers in the U.S. are women).
- Pregnant Worker Fairness Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to protect pregnant workers’ health.
Liberty and Justice for SOME: Our Broken Public Defender System
February 11, 2021
For 50 years, public defenders have been asked to take on more clients than they can properly handle, causing lawyers to violate American Bar Association
Rules of Judicial and Professional Conduct. Without time to prepare effective counsel, lawyers are forced to participate in a criminal “justice” system that has become a criminal processing system, Stephen Hanlon said. Automatically funneled into jails and prisons without adequate, timely defense, prisoners’ lives are unjustly ruined and our country pays for costly mass incarceration.
Working to change the system, Hanlon’s firm and others have identified times needed for public defenders to effectively handle various types of cases. They advocate for judges’ assigning public defenders’ caseloads based on standards established by their studies.
A report by the Brennan Center for Justice, Hanlon said, found that 39 percent of state and federal prisoners could be more appropriately sentenced to either an alternative to prison or a shorter prison stay, with limited impact on public safety. Many of the incarcerated are addicted or mentally ill. “This population needs to be out of the criminal justice system,” Hanlon said, and police need to be freed to deal with major violent crimes. The Brennan study says that releasing these prisoners would save nearly $20 billion a year ($200 billion over 10 years). The money saved would allow employment of more police, probation officers, and teachers (many states have taken money from their education budget to fund the prison system).
Hanlon urged Women’s Voices members to alert all Missouri office holders to support the EQUAL Defense Act, which addresses evidence-based workload limits. He said the bill would have support of conservatives, many of whom view the current prison and criminal justice systems as large, failed government programs. However, in answer to an audience question, he warned that many special interests that profit from the current system will resist the bill’s passage. He also said St. Louis’s Workhouse should be closed, citing a Bail Project finding that 95 percent of those released on bail return for trial and do not commit additional crimes.
For more information: www.lawyerhanlon.com.
The Politics of Funding Preschool Education
Thursday, January 14, 2021
Speakers: Linda Rallo, Vice President, Aligned, oversees education policy and legislation in Missouri. Richard Patton was director of Vision for Children at Risk for 20 years and addresses social policy issues in the St. Louis region on his Hearses & Bandwagons blog.
Studies have shown that early childhood education leads to lifelong benefits in health, learning, and employment; it lowers communities’ crime rates and raises wealth. In many states, Linda Rallo said, voters have approved funding vehicles for early childhood development, but Missouri has historically underfunded early childhood services. Rallo pointed out a hopeful sign: In November 2020, voters in St. Louis City passed Prop R, which will provide about $2.3 million in property tax revenue to support early childhood services.
Much more money is needed, however, not only for the city but also for St. Louis County and the metropolitan area. Possible financing tools, Rallo said, include increased allocations in the state funding formula, local sales taxes, and bond issues. She urged lobbying our state legislators.
Richard Patton cautioned that many stakeholders who might be called on for funding face daunting challenges. Few families have sufficient income to cover the cost of high-quality care; federal and local governments must balance many priorities; school districts’ operations don’t accommodate families’ needs; and philanthropy has dwindled with the loss of major area corporations.
How can advocates help? Speakers advised us to support specific initiatives, champion candidates who favor funding, and educate lawmakers and the public about the benefits of making pre-K education a top public policy priority.
Stop the Bullets: Community Efforts to Reduce Gun Violence
Thursday, December 10, 2020
Panelists: Rabbi Susan Talve, founding rabbi of Central Reform Congregation and member of Missouri Faith Leadership Council. Dr. LJ Punch, associate professor of surgery, Washington University School of Medicine, and founder of The T STL and Power4STL. Sal Martinez, chief executive officer, Employment Connection.
Our speakers’ approaches to gun violence are based on the fundamental belief that gun violence is a public health problem that can only be solved by innovative community-based solutions. As St. Louis surpasses 200 gun-related homicides in 2020, we learned how the panelists’ programs are tackling gun violence by addressing its root causes through human relationships.
Rabbi Talve said the Missouri Faith Leadership Council’s Village Safe Spaces program is a whole-person, whole-family approach to tackling violence. The program launched in February to provide after-school activities, academic support, mental health care, and grief counseling in hot-spot
communities. In March, because of COVID-19, the program shifted its focus to meet an urgent need for food. Now, rather than having students come to one of the Village Safe Space locations, the program is delivering food and other services to homes through the St. James Food Commissary, which Talve helped create in response to the food insecurity crisis. Talve attributes the program’s success to its collaboration with existing grassroots organizations that already had the community’s trust.
Dr. Punch decided to expand community outreach because of the success of the Stop The Bleed program, which has trained community members to quickly treat a person injured in a shooting incident. At The T building, Punch has started the Bullet-Related Injury Clinic to treat primarily young men who have been released from the hospital without follow-up for their bullet wounds and who are at risk for future violence. At the clinic, they receive needed medical support for physical trauma and also interventions to heal the emotional trauma of being shot. “We offer in-person visits,” Punch said, “to heal the true injury,” which is a broken trust that the world is a safe place.
Sal Martinez oversees the Cure Violence program, operated by Employment Connection in two St. Louis neighborhoods. The Urban League operates a third site. Martinez explained that Cure Violence uses a public health approach that treats violence as a virus epidemic that clusters, spreads, and is transmitted. Thus the program emphasizes scientific understanding rather than moralistic judgment, and aims to influence learned behavior and group and community norms to prevent future violence.
Cure Violence works by hiring teams of residents, many of whom have experienced gun violence, to patrol their neighborhoods and build relationships with at-risk individuals. The teams offer coaching and wrap-around social services that give people the incentive to change their lives. Martinez said the state legislature could help by investing more resources in prevention of gun violence, rather than in incarceration, and by passing tougher gun laws.
How we can help. The speakers said people can assist them in several ways: Donate money. Volunteer. Rabbi Talve said a homeless shelter needs volunteers to teach employment skills. Martinez said Cure Violence teams could use technical training. Dr. Punch hopes for “enduring partners” who will make an ongoing commitment. For more information, please go to the organizations’ websites: Serving Families in Need – STLMade (thestl.com), Trauma Recovery, Health Education and Healing (thetstl.com), Employment Connection of St. Louis (employmentstl.org)
Friday, November 20, 2020
The Racial Equity Summit brought together social justice advocates to explore practical actions to advance justice in our region, state and country. Empower Missouri hosted the November 20 virtual meeting, which was co-sponsored by many organizations, including Women’s Voices.
In his keynote address, Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson said, “We meet in a time of trial and transition”–trial because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the COVID-1619 virus of systemic racism, and transition because of the presidential election, which presents new opportunities. As incoming president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, DC, and former president and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation, Wilson gave his unique perspective on where we go from here.
He urged organizations to be the voice for the more than 74 million children under the voting age of 18—a majority of whom are nonwhite. For generations, he said, politicians have paid little attention to children’s needs, and today two in five Black and Brown children live in poverty. Starsky advocates focusing on changing policies and accumulating power to build “the beloved community”— a multiethnic, multiracial community of peace where love is the governing principal.
To change policies and fight for children, Wilson advised advocates to:
- Put pressure on legislators and Governor Parson, to enact equitable policies, including ensuring fair distribution of coronavirus vaccine with mobile units and funding for Medicaid expansion.
- Go into neighborhoods to canvass on voting issues and speak to “everyday people” about their concerns.
- “Get out of individual silos” and work in broad coalitions.
- Assemble diverse staff and board members. Organizations that look like the community are trusted and more effective.
Join Summit Participants’ Fight for Racial Justice
Explore these organizations’ many opportunities to carry us forward in this time of trial and transition:
- Empower Missouri, empowermissouri.org
- Clark Fox Family Foundation, clarkfoxstl.com
- Deaconess Foundation, deaconess.org
- Missouri Budget Project, mobudget.org
- Creative Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness, gkcceh.org
- Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, womensvoicesraised.org
- Jewish Community Relations Council, jcrcstl.org
- Operation Food Search, operationfoodsearch.org
- Missouri Kids First, essential4kids.org
- Salvation Army, Midland Division, salarmymidland.org
- Places for People, placesforpeople.org
- Buzzbold, buzzbold.com
- Missouri Jobs with Justice, mojwj.org
- Journey to New Life, journeytonewlife.org
- Chestnut Health System, chestnut.org
- Physicians for a National Health Program Missouri, showmemedicareforall.org
- Gateway Housing First, gatewayhousingfirst.org
- Metropolitan Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, more2.org/issues
- NAACP Missouri State Conference, monaacp.org
- Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE), moenvironment.org
- Kids Win Missouri, kidswinmissouri.org
- Missouri Faith Voices, missourifaithvoices.org
- Meyers Okohson Political Consulting, mopoliticalconsulting.com
Decision 2020: Experts Decipher Election Results
Anita Manion, PhD, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Missouri-St. Louis; Gena Gunn McClendon, PhD, Director, Voter Access & Engagement, Financial Capability & Asset Building initiatives, Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis; Jason Rosenbaum, Politics Correspondent, St. Louis Public Radio
Speakers analyzed the November 3 election and its outcomes in Missouri. For the
first time, Missouri allowed mail-in voting and expanded absentee voting because of coronavirus. Panelists looked at the future of voting options and of social justice progress in Missouri in light of the November voting results. Their analyses predict many challenges for progressive organizations.
Voting process. The panelists said that Missouri’s expansion of mail-in and early absentee voting was helpful, but voter suppression continued, aided by confusing and cumbersome requirements for notarization of some ballots, marking envelopes, and mailing/submitting ballots.
Amendment 3. Surprisingly, Missourians voted for this amendment, which overturned Clean Missouri, a measure approved earlier to ensure nonpartisan drawing of congressional districts. The unclear and misleading ballot language was the likely reason voters who did not understand the issue voted yes on the amendment, they said.
The future. “Missouri is operating in a parallel universe to the rest of the country,” panelists explained. Rural Missourians vote overwhelmingly Republican. With Republicans holding office at all levels, Democrats have no leverage for accomplishing reforms such as abortion rights, gun control, taxes to support education and health care, or criminal justice reform. A panelist said rural Missourians’ primary concerns are abortion and gun rights, which makes it difficult for people of all views to come together on other common issues. Although there are no easy solutions, panelists said that rural voters need to understand how political issues impact their daily lives. In the meantime, they said, the legislature will likely oppose efforts to enact no-excuse absentee voting, we will see more voter suppression efforts, and most state offices will continue to be held by Republicans.
The Dirty Details: Defeating Amendment 3
Speaker: Mikel Whittier, Coalitions Director, No on 3 – Clean Missouri Campaign, and founder of Splice Strategies.
Vote no on Amendment 3 on November 3, Mikel Whittier urged, because it overturns the will of Missourians, who overwhelmingly passed the “Clean Missouri” amendment in 2018. That amendment laid out a fair, impartial process for drawing state legislative districts limited lobbyist gifts and some campaign contributions and strengthened sunshine laws. But now the Missouri Senate has proposed Amendment 3 with one intention: to protect incumbent politicians by imposing a radical gerrymandering scheme that excludes many Missourians from the democratic process.
Amendment 3 is patently deceptive since the first thing that voters read is a reduction in lobbyist gifts and campaign contributions. The CLEAN Amendment already substantially did this. Amendment 3’s reduction of lobbyist gifts is only a $5 change. The reduction of campaign contributions is only $100 for State Senate seats
Whittier explained that the amendment drastically cuts the number of people who would have representation in the legislature. Only citizens of voting age would be counted in drawing districts. This means that children and immigrants would not be counted. People of color are disproportionately affected since they tend to have more children than White families and comprise the larger number of immigrants. These non-voters are 27 percent of Missouri’s population. Every other State counts its entire population when determining legislative districts.
In addition, Amendment 3 allows the Missouri governor to appoint a special committee to draw state districts rather than a non-partisan demographer. It allows districts to be drawn in a much less competitive manner than outlined in the CLEAN Amendment. and makes it more difficult for citizens to file suits alleging gerrymandered redistricting.
Because the ballot language is intentionally confusing, Whittier called on Women’s Voices members, faith groups, and other concerned citizens to join the No on 3 Campaign to educate voters about this “formula for the most extreme gerrymandering in the United States.”
What You Can Do:
Spread the word. Call friends and family. Speak out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Go to www.cleanmissouri.org to:
- Volunteer with the Clean Missouri Campaign.
- Donate to the Clean Missouri Campaign.
- Phonebank with the campaign.
Put up a yard sign. Signs are available at LIUNA Local 110, 4532 S. Lindbergh Blvd., 63127. www.lu110.com
Women’s Voices members approved opposing (Vote NO) the legislature’s proposed new amendment. Read our position here.
Bringing the Ballot to You: Voting During a Pandemic and Beyond
Speakers: Eric Fey, Democratic Director of Elections in St. Louis County; Aquene Freechild, Co-Director, Democracy Is for the People Campaign; Jennifer S. Lohman, Director, St. Louis Area Voter Protection Coalition; League of Women Voters Elections Committee Member
Our speakers, experts in voting rights and advocacy, gave us a to-do list showing how we can protect our
constitutional right to vote, especially during a pandemic in which more people will be voting from home:
- Check your voter registration to be sure all the information is correct. You can call 1-866-OUR-VOTE or go to https://www.vote.org/am-i-
Make a plan for how you will vote. If you are voting by mail, request your ballot. As soon as you receive your ballot, fill it out, and mail it immediately. (Ballot request forms can be found on the Missouri Secretary of State website and sent to your local election board.)
St. Louis County Board of Elections
St. Louis City Board of Elections
Quick ballot request: MOvote.org
- If you are using a mail-in ballot or absentee ballot, be sure to use the envelope provided. Sign the statement on the envelope, be sure the notary stamp is on the envelope if your ballot requires notarization, and do not mark out anything (barcodes) printed on the envelope.
- Volunteer to be a monitor; see protectthevote.net. You can be a monitor from your car at the polls or a social media monitor, responding to anyone who needs help with voting. Social media monitors also can report misinformation at www.commoncause.org/disinfo.
- Even if you are not a monitor, you should report disinformation or misinformation about voting on social media at commoncause.org/disinfo.
- Exercise extreme caution about disseminating voter information on social media. Do not share anything you cannot verify. Be aware that internet trolls are putting out false information. Do not repeat myths you are debunking; rather, give factual information. Also, understand that each state and county has its own voting procedures, so information you see on social media is likely not to apply to all jurisdictions.
- Tell as many people as possible that election results will not be known for some time after election day—possibly weeks. Time will be needed to have every ballot counted.
- Contact your senators to demand additional federal funding to ensure a smooth and fair election. Missouri senators are Roy Blunt (202-224-5721) and Josh Hawley (202-224-6154). Or call 1-888-415-4527 to be connected or read more here.
- Attend the John Lewis “Good Trouble” Voter Awareness March on September 22 at 11 a.m. The march begins at the Dred Scott Courthouse, west side of Kiener Plaza Park. Register here.
Information at votingrightsalliance.org.
- If you encounter any problem with voting, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
NOTE: Missouri requires mail-in ballots to be mailed in by U.S. mail. However, other absentee ballots can be returned in person to the election board, or they can be mailed.
Additional information from our speakers:
Vote NO on Amendment 3 on the November ballot. This amendment would overturn “Clean Missouri” provisions that voters passed by a 2 to 1 margin in
Reimagining Public Safety
Speakers: Jamala Rogers, Co-chair, Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression (CAPCR); Wesley A. Bell, Prosecuting Attorney, St. Louis County
Protests against police violence after the murder of George Floyd and others are forcing a reassessment of the nation’s “arrest and incarcerate” model of public safety. Opening the meeting, Women’s Voices Co-president Ruth Ehresman noted that the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department had an average of 17.9 police killings per million residents in the years 2013-2019, compared to the national average of 4.6. In that context, speakers laid out their vision for changing the policies that have not succeeded in making people safe.
Jamala Rogers said the CAPCR Campaign for Real Public Safety is working to redirect money from the current model, which has resulted in overflowing prisons, to new partnerships with social services that will prevent crime by addressing its root causes of poverty and racism.
St. Louis’s crime rate remains high, although St. Louis is the 11th highest policed city in the United States, with 1,185 officers. Of the city’s general fund budget, 52% is allocated to the “arrest and incarcerate” model of public safety, while only 0.6% is spent on health and human services, Rogers said. The City wants to hire an additional 1300 police officers, which would make it the 6th highest policed city. She described an alternative approach that has succeeded in other cities: Cure Violence. This program uses community members to detect and interrupt violent conflicts; identify people at risk of violence and help them change their behavior; and mobilize neighborhoods to shift social norms and support individuals.
Although the city received funding for Cure Violence, city leaders recently announced plans to bring in 50 federal agents to reduce violent crime, an act that Rogers said violates Cure Violence’s principles, which are based on building community trust, not involving the police, and using holistic interventions. Because their voices were not being heard, Rogers said, she and other members of CAPCR have resigned from the Cure Violence oversight committee.
Like Rogers, Wesley Bell favors a dramatic new concept of public safety. “What doesn’t keep people safe,” he said, is locking up more people. Thirty years of “tough on crime” and “war on drugs” approaches have failed, causing racist mass incarceration and the highest rates of gun violence, homicides, and recidivism. In his office, Bell said, he has instituted a conviction review unit to investigate police misconduct and has reduced the jail population by 30% for low-level crimes. He is working to eliminate “debtors’ prison” practices and rebuild trust between communities and the prosecutor’s office by being transparent about decisions.
He believes in investing in trauma care for children, drug treatment, and mental health and medical services to victims of crime. His office has expanded a program to divert people to treatment rather than incarceration.
Question/Answer Session: In answer to an audience question about recent attacks by officials on St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, Rogers and Bell expressed their support for Gardner. Bell said her overwhelming win in the August 4 primary showed that people of all walks of life now recognize the need for positive systemic change. Rogers pointed out that Gardner’s actions have been no different from those of many other prosecutors, yet she is being persecuted as a Black woman. The current special session of the Missouri legislature is considering a bill to empower Gov. Mike Parson and state Attorney General Eric Schmitt to remove Gardner from office or override her authority. Speakers condemned the effort as “political posturing” and constitutionally unsound.
In answer to a question about how we can make change, the speakers urged us to:
- Contact the Missouri Speaker of the House, Governor Parson, and state representatives
- Educate people on the financial benefits of reforms such as diversionary treatment practices, which are cheaper than incarceration, and jobs programs, which help both the individual and all taxpayers
- Keep the pressure on officials by voting in every election on every level
In answer to a question about calls to “defund the police,” speakers clarified that the term referred to reallocating resources to free police from handling issues more appropriate for social workers or others. Bell said social workers should be embedded in police departments, where they could better handle mental
health, domestic violence, and other issues. Police would investigate major crimes such as homicide. Defunding the police does not mean eliminating law officers.
Thursday, July 9
The Dollars & the Sense of Medicaid Expansion
Speaker: Mikel Whittier, MHA, Coalitions Director for Yes on 2: Healthcare for Missouri. His career in health care policy includes service on the St. Louis Integrated Health Network, the Regional Health Commission Advisory Board, and the Community and Faith Advisory Council of Barnes Jewish Hospital.
On Tuesday, August 4, 2020, all Missourians could vote Yes on Amendment 2. Mikel Whittier spoke in support of the measure, explaining its many benefits to Missourians and the state. Missouri’s current draconian eligibility requirements for Medicaid have resulted in many working people lacking health insurance. For the most part, only children and the disabled can qualify. By expanding Medicaid to Missourians who earn less than $18,000 a year, thousands of people will be able to obtain preventive and other care: veterans and their families, working women who don’t have access to preventive care, and many other working people whose jobs don’t provide health insurance.
Besides making Missourians more healthy, the state will reap substantial economic benefits by expanding Medicaid:
Protecting and creating jobs. The majority of those who would gain health coverage work full-time. The coronavirus pandemic makes Medicaid expansion especially important. It would protect essential workers: more than 264,000 who work in food preparation and serving, and more than 120,000 who work in health support and maintenance occupations.
Helping rural communities. New beneficiaries would be 71% white, 18% Black, 6% Latinx, and 4% other. Since 60% of new recipients would be rural, their impoverished communities would benefit by the creation of jobs and increased revenue for hospitals, many of which are being forced to close.
Returning taxpayer dollars. Medicaid expansion would return millions of federal dollars to Missouri. This is money paid by Missouri taxpayers that is going to the 36 states that have accepted Medicaid expansion.
In the past few months, Women’s Voices members helped gather the more than 300,000 citizen signatures that put Amendment 2 on the August ballot. Tools provided by the Yes on 2 Coalition, will help us to reach out to voters by phone and text banking and participating in get-out-the-vote events. For more information, contact Mikel Whittier at email@example.com and www.yeson2.org.