The criminal justice system in Boone County fails to treat all citizens equally, resulting in the systemic oppression of marginalized groups including poor people and minorities, say representatives of churches, the Missouri chapter of the NAACP and local advocacy group Race Matters, Friends.
“We are human beings and we deserve justice” and “equal treatment under the law,” said Sylvester McClain at a gathering outside of the Boone County Courthouse on Wednesday. He is the father of Gregory McClain, who was a University of Missouri Hospital surgeon who pleaded guilty earlier this year to two counts of misdemeanor harassment.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the steps of the courthouse, organizers of the gathering on Wednesday discussed how Missouri’s criminal justice system does not treat accused individuals fairly. Speakers noted several problems they see with the system, including: police who focus enforcement efforts on specific areas or groups of people; prosecutors and judges who do not uniformly prosecute or sentence people; and severe consequences for those who cannot pay fines or afford legal representation.
The advocacy groups said the former surgeon’s case as an example of why the system needs to be reformed. Presiding Judge Kevin Crane in July sentenced McClain, who is a black man, to four months in jail and two years of probation for the misdemeanors.
McClain has repeatedly denied the harassment. He had no prior convictions.
“Judge Crane, let my son go,” McClain’s father said on Wednesday.
Former Missouri NAACP president Mary Ratliff said McClain was “railroaded,” and his sentence was unfair. She and others called for McClain’s release from prison. They pointed to several instances of the Boone County Court offering probation or light sentences to white felons as evidence of injustice.
One example Race Matters, Friends president Traci Wilson-Kleekamp provided was that of Hunter Park. Park pleaded guilty last year to making a terroristic threat — a felony charge — after he threatened to kill black people on the University of Missouri campus in November 2015. Crane gave him no jail time and five years probation for the felony.
It does not make sense that a doctor in the community accused of two misdemeanors would receive jail time, while someone accused of a felony gets probation, Wilson-Kleekamp said.
“We need to reevaluate why we imprison people,” Wilson-Kleekamp said. “Please step back, look at these disparities and make sure government that works for all of us” actually “represents us” properly.
Speakers said they are investigating Crane’s sentencing record and calling for a full investigation into whether the 13th Judicial Circuit of Missouri treats people unfairly based on economic background, disability or race. They also provided a few ways the government could begin eliminating rules or laws that create an unfair system.
The local municipal court took a good step by offering a weeklong warrant amnesty program, said Wilson-Kleekamp, but perhaps an amnesty program could last 30 days or longer. Many of the nearly 1,000 warrants listed on the city’s website are for petty crimes such as minor traffic violations, and throwing people in jail for their inability to pay a fine is not right, she said.
Local private attorneys also are being required by the court to take indigent clients because the public defenders’ office is underfunded, the group noted. The state should properly fund its public defenders so the accused who cannot afford an attorney get proper representation, they said.
Also, local judges can rethink how they are sentencing people, Wilson-Kleekamp said.
“I’d recommend” Crane “do some implicit bias training,” she said. “I think the whole court should.”
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!