January 18, 2021
St. Louis, Mo. — In the spirit of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ArchCity Defenders (ACD), a holistic legal advocacy organization, has released the policy report, “Death by the State: Police Killings and Jail Deaths in St. Louis,” which centers the disturbing realities faced by families after a loved one is killed by police or dies in jail custody. The report places these devastating experiences within a broader context which includes: data on the disturbingly high rate of regional police killings and jail deaths between 2009 to 2019, a content analysis of how these incidents were reported, a section on the police officers involved, and the fiscal cost borne by the public for this system of policing.
Click here to read the report.
The report is part of ACD’s Fatal State Violence Project, a focus area of the organization that has grown over time, and will now include elements of our holistic direct services, media and policy advocacy, community collaborations, and systemic litigation. In September 2020, Emanuel Powell, a former ACD Intern, returned as a Skadden Fellow and to provide legal support to families impacted by Fatal State Violence (FSV).
“The seeds of this project were planted after I met the family of Isaiah Hammett who was killed by a SWAT team with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in the first weeks of my summer internship with ACD,” said Powell. “I am deeply grateful to ACD and the Skadden Foundation for the opportunity to return to St. Louis where there is so much need to support families like Isaiah’s.”
Over the past few years, ACD has represented and been in conversation with families impacted by Fatal State Violence, and included some of their shared hopes and frustrations in the report. Families’ pain and grief was compounded by minimal and callous responses from local government and police departments; skewed and, at times, inaccurate news media coverage that villainized their loved one and defended the state; stressful costs associated with pursuing accountability and closure; and the difficulty of attaining justice and change from the legal system.
Some of those stories will be shared live today during ACD’s virtual event Death by the State: ArchCity Defenders Introduces Fatal State Violence Project, at 1PM CST. Additionally, ACD will go through key findings from the report, which are summarized below. For more information on panelists, the online event, and to register, click here.
“This project represents ACD’s expanded focus on an issue that has long been a part of our work, and has now reached a critical historical juncture,” said Blake Strode, Executive Director of ArchCity Defenders. “I am so proud of the work that our team has done to continue to shed light on the ways that families and communities are impacted by fatal state violence, and deeply grateful to the families who have lent their time and voices to this effort.”
From 2009 to 2019, ACD identified at least 179 people who have been killed by police or who died while in jail custody within four counties of the St. Louis region: St. Louis, St. Louis City, Jefferson, and St. Charles.
Of the 132 people killed by police, 92% were men and 72% were Black. The youngest person killed was 12 years old and the oldest was 68. Of the 31 police departments implicated, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department killed the most people, amassing 69 deaths (or 53%). Officers from the St. Louis County Police Department killed 24 people during this same period (18%). The top four deadliest zip codes were 63118, 63113, 63147, and 63136.
Of the 47 people who died in jail custody, 81% were men, 45% were white, and 42% were Black. Twelve people reportedly died in the St. Louis County Jail, 10 in St. Louis City’s Justice Center, 7 in the Medium Security Institution, aka “the Workhouse.” ACD also identified people who died in the following St. Louis County municipal jails: Pagedale, Jennings, and Des Peres.
To further understand FSV, ACD analyzed how fatal police shootings are reported in the news, and specifically, the initial coverage of these incidents. ACD did a content analysis of 115 news stories and found the following— articles prioritize placement of police statements over those made by the victims’ families, if families’ statements are even recorded; the media is quick to criminalize the majority of victims, and Black victims are criminalized more frequently than white victims; articles rarely contextualize the person’s death within a larger structure of anti-Blackness or police violence; and coverage overwhelmingly protects the identities of police officers while exposing victims through practices such as printing their addresses.
Through ACD’s research, the organization identified the names of 80 different police officers directly involved in the deaths of people in the St. Louis region. Identifying information on police reportedly responsible for fatalities was laborious and required time and access to multiple sources of data. Through this process, ACD found at least six officers reported to be involved in more than one killing; and multiple officers who shuffled to other police departments in the region.
The report concludes with a cost analysis section and key takeaways for specific audiences. To learn more about ACD’s Fatal State Violence project, the report, and how to get involved, visit: www.archcitydefenders.org/fatalstateviolence. Join this conversation on social media, using #FatalStateViolenceProject and #DeathByTheState when referring to the report.
Z Gorley, Communications Director, ArchCity Defenders