Updated: Dec 29, 2020
St. Louis has rightfully claimed headlines related to the egregious bias of law enforcement and municipal court officials in handling the rights of citizens of color.
A report from the Fair Punishment Project at Harvard Law School on the “Deadliest Prosecutors in America” identifies two prosecutors from the St. Louis area, the late Nels Moss and Dean Waldemer, as having engaged in misconduct, including covering up the police beating of an African-American defendant to gain a confession as well as a death sentence, and inventing a technique to exclude black citizens from St. Louis County’s capital juries.
Enough is enough. We the NAACP and as people of faith and good citizens must force prosecutors to live up to our expectations of fair play and justice. Against this backdrop of prosecutorial misconduct and racial discriminatory behavior, we can only conclude that the decision to seek the death penalty affords too much discretion to prosecutors who have demonstrably failed our trust.
Since 1909, the NAACP has fought for justice and equality. Let us remember our history. Francis L. McIntosh, a free man of color, was lynched in the town of St. Louis on April 28, 1836, after he was tied to a tree and burned to death. In the investigation of his death, aptly named Circuit Court Judge Luke Lawless asked the grand jury to determine whether the killing of McIntosh was the “act of the many,” in which case “it is beyond the reach of human law.”
The actions of Moss and Waldemer must not be beyond the reach of human law. They broke our trust, and St. Louis, and the greater state of Missouri, needs to end its continued tradition of taking black lives under the false mantle of an allegedly unbiased process when Harvard tells of it differently.
Only one of 114 elected prosecutors in Missouri is a person of color. We must take away the state’s ability to seek the death of people ill-prepared to defend themselves from harsh prosecution.
Nimrod Chapel Jr. • Jefferson City
President, Missouri NAACP State Conference