By Angelo Vidal
December 19, 2023
2023 has been a difficult year for vulnerable communities targeted by our political and legal systems and advocates fighting to make our home a more equitable place. In St. Louis, we witnessed an unprecedented surge of deaths inside the City Justice Center, new laws criminalizing homelessness, a slew of hateful anti-trans legislation, and the region’s continued overinvestment in carceral systems instead of policies and programs proven to increase community well-being – just to name a few challenges.
But it’s not all bad news. At ArchCity Defenders, opposition has always yielded opportunities for powerful resistance, community-building, and transformative change. We’ve made remarkable achievements this year, none of which would have been possible without the commitment of our clients, community partners, and supporters. We know that you, like us, want to be part of the solution, so let’s celebrate what we accomplished together this year.
Without further ado, here are 10 ways ACD and community partners showed up in 2023:
1. We shed light on the impact of fatal state violence on Black women and women of color through an art exhibition and publication
We hit the ground running in January 2023. Together with My Friends and I, we launched “Bound by Blood,” a multimedia exhibition at The Luminary featuring portraits and video stories told by women whose loved ones were killed by police or died in custody, and an incarcerated Black transgender woman whose life is constantly jeopardized. Alongside visual art, we released In Her Words: The Impact of Fatal State Violence on Black Women and Women of Color Left Behind, a publication which provides a deeper look at the loss and hardship suffered by women survivors of state violence, told in their own words.
If you couldn’t make it to the exhibition, no worries! You’ll find these pertinent stories on our website at archcitydefenders.org/fatalstateviolence.
2. We reignited public dialogue about “wanteds,” an unlawful tactic used by Missouri Police
If you’re looking for evidence that police enforce social control, not public safety, look no further than “wanteds.” Wanteds are a system devised by police to arrest and detain people without an arrest warrant. Police use this practice throughout the St. Louis region and across the state, devastating the lives of mostly Black and Brown folk and violating the constitutional rights of thousands.
Since 2016, ACD and co-counsel have fought alongside our clients to end wanteds in the lawsuit Furlow v. Belmar, et al. Litigation is ongoing, but there is nothing stopping the County, the City of St. Louis, and all surrounding municipalities from ending wanteds right now. To that end, we raised public awareness about wanteds through social media explainers, an op-ed, a two-pager, and public radio appearances.
Learn more and view #EndWanteds resources here.
3. Alongside the We the Tenants campaign, we helped to draft and advocated for the passage of a Right to Counsel bill, which will provide representation to St. Louis City tenants facing eviction
This is a huge win considering Black, low-income renters in St. Louis face eviction more than twice as often as white renters and just one eviction judgment can plague a family’s future, forcing them into a cycle of substandard housing, homelessness, and poverty.
Approximately 70 people from the campaign provided public testimony during the hearings. On the back end, our attorneys worked with the City to draft the legislation. St. Louis is the 22nd jurisdiction in the country to provide this legal service.
4. We settled not one but two multi-million dollar debtors’ prison lawsuits
This year, we reached settlements in our debtors’ prison lawsuits against the City of Maplewood and the City of St. Ann, resulting in over $6 million dollars for impacted folks to cash in on. We’ve now reached preliminary settlements in five out of seven debtors’ prison lawsuits we’ve filed since 2015. Only Fant et al. v. City of Ferguson and Baker et al. v. City of Florissant remain.
The claims period for Thomas v. St. Ann is open now! If you were jailed by the City of St. Ann for nonpayment of fines and fees between September 9, 2011, and November 14, 2022, file a claim at stannclassaction.com. The deadline to file a claim is February 28, 2024.
5. Our award-winning “Justice for Some” campaign shared the truth about our criminal legal system with St. Louis
If you’re wealthy and white in St. Louis, your pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness is seamless. However, if you’re poor and Black, your experience looks drastically different. People of color are consistently held back by the systems that should be protecting them but are designed to do the opposite.
With in-kind support from HLK agency, we were able to spread this message throughout St. Louis with billboards, posters, and even a themed beer with Earthbound Brewery. Through this project, we garnered additional earned media coverage with a reach of 3.72 million viewers and won the Silver Honor in the 15th Annual Shorty Awards’ Social Activism category!
6. We and our People’s Plan coalition partners threw the best Juneteenth celebration around!
This year’s Juneteenth cookout was a blast. We gathered to eat, dance, and most importantly, learn more about the People’s Plan, a coalition with a comprehensive policy agenda designed to help us build power and redistribute resources in St. Louis City.
Also, have you ever seen so much Black joy in one photo? Shoutout to our digital media strategist and photographer Johnny Wu Gabbert!
7. On season four of Under the Arch, we spoke with advocates combatting anti-trans legislation, attacks on democracy, Black history bans, and more – and gave listeners ways to get involved
In season four of Under the Arch, a joint podcast with Action St. Louis, we spoke with guests like Congresswoman Cori Bush, President of the Board of Alderman Megan Green, actress and activist Kerry Washington, and many more. The podcast has grown over the years to reach listeners in over 200 U.S. cities in its fourth season. In a time where human rights are being attacked on all fronts, “Under the Arch” gives the community what it needs to stay informed and make change.
Listen to Under the Arch wherever you get your podcasts and read this article by Ladue News to learn more: Local podcast sheds light on critical issues facing St. Louis
8. We updated and distributed our Pro Se guides to help people know their rights and represent themselves when in municipal court, facing eviction, or dealing with police
Do you know what your rights are if the police stop you on the street, or how to defend yourself at trial? Most people don’t, and those most targeted by the criminal legal system often have the fewest resources to advocate for themselves. That’s where #ProSeSTL comes in.
In 2018, we created guides to give people the basic tools to navigate interactions with police, courts, and jails. This year, we brought them back with updated legal information for 2023. Learn how to defend yourself and download a Pro Se Guide today. Free print and digital versions available now at prosestl.org.
9. To help offset the effects of inflation and a stagnant minimum wage, our social services team and volunteers executed a food delivery program and holiday gift drive, delivering food to households each month and gift cards to 70 households before the holidays
With your help, we exceeded our goal of raising $7500 for our holiday gift drive! The holiday season should be a joyous time, but for those in challenging financial circumstances, it can be incredibly difficult. Your donations brought joy into our clients’ homes during the holidays.
If you’re looking for volunteer opportunities, ACD’s Social Service team is looking to recruit volunteers to assist with food deliveries to our social services clients. Sign up here!
10. Former ACD clients and impacted folks led the City’s “Re-Envisioning the Workhouse” project and are helping to re-imagine uses for the former jail
The “Re-envisioning the Workhouse” steering committee compiled over 2,400 community responses on what people think should happen to the notorious Workhouse jail and land around it. This summer, Close the Workhouse and longtime partner, Ben & Jerry’s, held a joint press conference to raise awareness of this process.
This winter, the Stakeholder Steering Committee is meeting to draft and finalize the project Vision Report. Learn more about the project and who’s involved at aftertheworkhouse.com.