Missouri lawmakers will reconvene later this month to consider ways to stem the escalating violence that has become especially deadly in St. Louis and Kansas City, Gov. Mike Parson announced Wednesday.
The special session that starts July 27 will be singularly focused on violent crime. But unlike some other states that are considering police reforms in the wake of racial injustice protests, Missouri lawmakers will focus on measures that could strengthen laws and put more people behind bars. The leader of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus said he was disappointed that police reform is not on the table.
While the worst of the crime is in St. Louis and Kansas City, Parson called it a “Missouri problem.”
“All of this is unacceptable,” Parson said. “We are better than that in Missouri, and we must hold violent criminals accountable for their actions.”
St. Louis and Kansas City both had among the highest homicide rates in the nation in 2019, and the trend is far worse in 2020.
St. Louis has recorded 130 killings, including four more Tuesday night, compared to 99 at the same time in 2019, and is on pace to easily exceed the 194 homicides of last year. Mayor Lyda Krewson, a Democrat, has said the violence is “devastating our communities and our families.”
Kansas City has recorded 101 killings so far in 2020, 26 more than by this time a year ago. Kansas City ended 2109 with 150 homicides.
Both cities have tried various measures to stem the violence. St. Louis is using a program called Cure Violence, in which workers are trained to deescalate conflicts and to try and convince people to turn away from violence in high-crime areas.
A new Kansas City program announced by the White House last week, Operation Legend, will bring in more than 100 agents from the FBI and other agencies to battle violent crime.
Many leaders in St. Louis and Kansas City have noted that the rise in violence has coincided with a 2017 law that allowed Missourians to carry guns without permits, training or background checks.
“That really made it hard for our city and our communities because guns are our problem,” Rosilyn Temple, executive director of the anti-violence group KC Mothers in Charge, said of the law.
Parson, a staunch gun rights supporter, said the special session “is not the time” for lawmakers to consider changing state law to allow local jurisdictions to enact gun laws tougher than the state’s, as some urban leaders have suggested.
Missouri Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Steven Roberts of St. Louis said in a statement that police reform should be part of the discussion. He said government leaders need to “examine how our legal system operates, analyze deficiencies and inequities, and establish a sustainable plan to address and correct these issues so our state fulfills the creed that all men and women are equal in the eyes of the law.”
Parson’s likely opponent in the November general election, Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway, said in a statement that it was “well past time that Governor Parson got serious about violence in Missouri. We’ll see just how serious he is this time about the biggest issue of all: finally taking common-sense action to get weapons off our streets.”
Parson said weeks of racial injustice protests, which began after George Floyd’s death in Minnesota on May 25, have taken a toll on police departments.
“They are maxed out to the limit,” he said. “They have been dealing with protests for months. They have been dealing with crime underneath the blanket of peaceful protests, along with the violence that goes on every day in their jobs.”
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade of Springfield, a Democrat, accused Parson of “tough-on-crime rhetoric that will solve nothing.”
“Diminishing the voice of Black communities, who are disproportionately affected by both the (coronavirus) pandemic and the epidemic of gun violence, will not make Missouri safer,” Quade said in a statement.