Those who wield the most power have the utmost responsibility to end cycles of violence and stop death sentences.
Missourians for Alternatives to the Death penalty has worked for several years to educate Missourians about the roles and responsibilities of prosecutors, working in coalition with others to address the growing movement toward a more just system.
With one just one reform minded prosecutor committed to never seeking a death sentence out of Missouri's 114 counties, efforts to hold prosecutors in Missouri accountable are just getting started.
One January 1, 2019, Wesley Bell became prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County, Missouri. An area of Missouri steeped in racial injustice, prosecutor misconduct, and historically one of the most executing counties in Missouri.
Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty endeavores to end capital punishment in the state, and with Bell’s appointment in a county known to have historical injustice, his appointment was crucial in our efforts to end the death penalty in the state. Bell ran his campaign on the promise to never impose a death sentence. After defeating Bob McColloch in 2018, he has remained consistent in his stance against the death penalty noting that it is an expensive system that is an ineffective deterrent to crime, and a system that has been racist in it’s application.
In 2020, Bell issued an article to the St. Louis American, citing the death penalty’s racism, “The death penalty also is racially biased. This year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, almost half of the defendants executed were people of color and 76% of the executions were for the deaths of White victims. Black folks are more likely to be executed than White folks, and those (of any race) who kill White people are more likely to be executed than those (of any race) who kill Black people.”
Why are prosecutors important in efforts toward death penalty abolition?
Police or prosecutorial misconduct is rampant in death-row exoneration cases and occurs even more frequently when the wrongfully death-sentenced exoneree is Black.(1)
It is systemically difficult to hold prosecutors accountable for misconduct, especially on matters of death penalty cases. Learn more about government misconduct by visiting The National registry of Exonerations 2020 report, Government Misconduct and Convicting the Innocent.
What do elected officials across the U.S. have to say?
An effort led by the organization Fair and Just Prosecution detailed a joint statement and amicus brief released on December 3, 2020, of 95 current and former prosecutors, U.S. Attorneys, police chiefs, and sheriffs who wrote that the U.S. death penalty process “is broken, implicates systemic racism and constitutional concerns, and distinguishes our country from many other democratic nations in the world.”
Signatories to the statement include 60 current elected prosecutors, including many from formerly high-use death penalty jurisdictions, such as Philadelphia, Dallas, and St. Louis. “Many have tried for over forty years to make America’s death penalty system just,” they wrote. “Yet the reality is that our nation’s use of this sanction cannot be repaired, and it should be ended.”
Fair and Just Prosecutions Executive Director, Miriam Krinsky, criticized the death penalty as “a cruel, ineffective, unjust punishment. It is ripe with racial bias, is often used against the most vulnerable among us, leaves us no chance to correct wrongful convictions, and does nothing to improve public safety.”
Jim Bueerman, former Chief of Police of Redlands, California and former President of the National Police Foundation, said that the arbitrary and “often racially-biased … use of capital punishment undermines efforts to protect communities by further eroding the fragile bonds of trust between law enforcement and the people we serve.” When that trust is undermined, the statement ways, “[o]ur jobs get harder, as do the jobs of others who seek to keep our communities safe.”
St. Louis County (St. Louis), Missouri - Wesley Bell
Los Angeles County (Los Angeles), California - George Gascón
Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona - Allister Adel
Travis County (Austin), Texas - José Garza