JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s governor would control St. Louis police under a bill advanced Wednesday in the state House.
Republican and some Democratic supporters argued the city is failing to control crime, which they said is spilling into the suburbs and hurting business. Black St. Louis Democrats decried the majority white, Republican-led Legislature for trying to take control away from Black leaders in the majority Black city.
A state commission oversaw the St. Louis Police Department dating back to the Civil War until 2013, when voters statewide gave power back to the city.
“This experiment was 11 years in the making and frankly, the promises have been broken,” said Rep. Justin Sparks, a suburban St. Louis Republican pushing the bill.
Under the bill, Republican Gov. Mike Parson would have from Aug. 28 until Sept. 28 to appoint four St. Louis police board commissioners. The mayor, currently Democrat Tishaura O. Jones, also would serve on the board.
Another Missouri city, Kansas City, currently has one of the only police departments in the nation overseen by a state board instead of local officials.
Republican Rep. Jeff Myers, another suburban St. Louis Republican pushing the bill, called on fellow lawmakers “to help the officers do something to take back their city.”
Democratic Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, who is Black, said the bill signals to his fellow St. Louis residents that lawmakers “who do not look like me” and who live outside the city “know what’s best for St. Louis.” He said changing control of the police won’t address the underlying causes of crime in a city that for years has had one of the highest violent crime rates in the U.S.
“How do we make sure that communities like mine have livable wages?” Aldridge said. “How do you make sure we have stable homes? How do we reverse policies that have been put in place strategically to disinvest Black and brown communities like mine?”
Wednesday’s debate comes after the House last month passed a bill that could strip power from the Black woman elected as the St. Louis prosecutor.
Black Democratic lawmakers at the time accused the state’s Republican House leadership of racism for shutting down a Black lawmaker’s speech during debate. House Majority Floor Leader Jon Patterson said discussions were running long and “of course race was not a factor in the decision to end debate.”
Racial tensions in the Legislature echo similar complaints in Mississippi, where the majority-white, Republican-led Legislature voted to take power from local leaders in the predominantly Black city of Jackson.
The Mississippi Senate voted to create a regional board to take control of Jackson’s struggling water system, which is now overseen by a federally appointed administrator. Then the House voted to create a new court in part of Jackson with judges who would be appointed rather than elected.
Mississippi state Sen. John Horhn, a Democrat, called the actions “a symbolic decapitation of Black elected leadership.”