We Need Black Prosecutors

The prosecutor is the most powerful figure in the American criminal justice system.  This is particularly so because, as the Supreme Court has recognized, the criminal justice system in the United States today “is, for the most part, a system of pleas, not a system of trials.”  In the state courts where over ninety percent of criminal cases are prosecuted, ninety-four percent of the convictions are the result of guilty pleas, and ninety-seven percent of federal convictions are the result of guilty pleas.  In this system of pleas, prosecutors have enormous advantages and often dictate not only the crimes defendants are convicted of, but the sentences that are imposed.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch addressed the National Black Prosecutors Association who are in St. Louis participating in a weeklong convention about the criminal justice system. Melba Pearson, the group's president, said the organization’s annual conference is being held in St. Louis because of the heightened focus on policing in light of the fatal 2014 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.

The City of St. Louis is a majority black city. However, the police and prosecutor, two institutions that have the most devastating effect on the lives of black folk are headed by white men. As I read the Post article, I couldn't help but consider the irony that McCulloch, the poster child of prosecutorial misconduct, was explaining to a group of Black prosecutors the  “lousy job” that prosecutors do. Sadly, McCulloch on several occasions has appeared bias towards police and racist in some of his actions.

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson (Center) has sought to use prosecutorial discretion to fight racial gaps in justice.

St. Louis is roughly 48% black and 47% white according to the most recent census data, but the prosecutors of both the circuit and municipal court levels are white. In the State of Missouri, county prosecutors are 99% white. There is only one black elected county prosecutor in the entire state; Shane Farrow in Moniteau County Missouri. Unfortunately, Mr. Farrow is being prosecuted himself for an accident that occurred, ironically in Columbia, MO, which recently gain national attention for racial discrimination.

Recent incidents in Ferguson, New York, Baltimore, Columbia and most recently Baton Rouge & Minnesota demonstrate the racial bias and divide that exist within our society. White police officers are quicker to stop and arrest black people and white prosecutors are quicker to  bring charges against black suspects, especially when the evidence may not be compelling. The said reality is that many low-income defendants, even those that are innocent, may plead guilty to avoid the possibility of longer sentences. See the Kansas City Star article, "Study finds that Missouri and Kansas prosecutors are overwhelmingly white". 

The primary election for St. Louis City Prosecutor is on August 2, 2016. It is my hope that a strong black candidate whose sole motivation is not to punish, but to rehabilitate, will be elected. However, as Phillip Agnew with Dream Defenders mentioned;

"It's not just a matter of having a representative that's on the city counsel, or in the mayor's office or on the police force that looks like you; they've gotta come from the community, know the issues of the community and then it's folks in the community that remind them everyday that we pay your bills and watching every single day to ensure that the platform on which we elected you with is followed and also defend you when those people who seek to calibrate the system and right the system as it's been built, seek to come at you for that office."

Unfortunately, I don't know any of the candidates well enough to make a recommendation. The Ethical Society of Police, a minority organization of about 215 St. Louis city officers who are almost all black, voted at their February 25 meeting to endorse Patrick Hamacher, a white candidate, in the race for St. Louis circuit attorney. I was surprised that they had not endorsed Steve Harmon, a former police officer and the son of former Police Chief Clarence Harmon. See the Atlantic article, "Most States Elect No Black Prosecutors".

I don't know much about Mr. Hamacher and he might be a great candidate. However, he and the other white candidate, Mary Pat Carl, currently work as prosecutors under Jennifer Joyce. In fact, Ms. Carl was endorsed by Joyce. 

The St. Louis Prosecutor's office appears to be a corrupt system. In corrupt systems, decent people end up with three options: get out, conform or be crushed. There are always good, moral people who look at what's happening around them and decide that they can't live with themselves if they go along with it. However, such people are almost always bullied, marginalized and destroyed. In bad systems, the decent person is the freak, the oddball, the awkward crank who is not a team player, not one of us. Both Hamacher and Carl were promoted while working for Joyce and seemed to have flourished, which by default means they conformed. I understand that most people do, but it doesn't earn my vote.

Regardless of who you support, if you're registered, you need to vote! If you're not registered to vote, you need to get registered, however, it's too late for the August 2nd primary. If you don't vote, don't complain, you got exactly what you're efforts earned.