ACD Justice Journal: Stories & Ideas for Liberation

For Tranell Stewart, the Fight Against Injustice is Compulsory

Will you support ACD during our 2023 Year End Appeal?

By Angelo Vidal; Photography by Johnny Wu Gabbert

November 6, 2023

This blog post is part of ACD’s 2023 Year End Appeal, our final and biggest fundraising push of the year, which we heavily rely on to continue serving the community. If you support our mission of inspiring justice and racial equity through holistic legal advocacy, please make a donation. Without you, our work wouldn’t be possible. 

“Your Voice Matters”

Throughout his life, Tranell Stewart has dealt with racial profiling and police violence, and watched these issues plague the Black community in St. Louis. “They train to deal with us differently than they deal with white people,” he told us. “It’s consistent harassment in my neighborhood. You don’t see that type of policing in rich suburbs.” 
As a means of survival, most people accept the way things are, Tranell believes. But for him, standing up against injustice has always been compulsory. The last time we spoke, he said emphatically, “Your voice matters. You’ve got to stand up for yourself when you’ve been wronged and let it be known.” 

In the summer of 2016, whilst Black Lives Matters protests erupted across the country following the police murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, Tranell led a weeks-long, one-man demonstration outside of the Florissant Police Department and spoke to the St. Louis American about their officers’ discriminatory behavior. “That could have been me,” Tranell told the American. Tragically, just a few months after the interview, Tranell came perilously close to facing the same grim fate. 

“Your voice matters. You’ve got to stand up for yourself
when you’ve been wronged and let it be known.” 

Fast forward to October of 2016, Tranell was arriving home with his infant son in the backseat of his car when he was approached by Maryland Heights police for allegedly failing to use his turn signal. As Tranell defended himself, maintaining that he did not neglect signaling, the officer grew more aggressive. At this point, Tranell’s son began fussing in the backseat. Concerned about his son’s wellbeing, Tranell attempted to get out of the car and attend to him. That’s when things turned violent. 

The officer immediately grabbed Tranell by the hair and attempted to bring him to the ground. “You’re going to die today,” Tranell remembers him taunting. Police backup arrived at the scene and two-on-one, the officers proceeded to beat Tranell, stomping his head into the pavement and kicking him in the eye. MHPD officers then stormed into his apartment and, when they did not get consent to search the home, threatened to arrest Tranell’s girlfriend at the time and send her children to protective services. 

All in all, MHPD officers arrested Tranell, searched his home without consent, and beat him so badly that he was hospitalized with severe injuries. The incident left profound scars on Tranell’s mental health.  

“Imagine the effect when you realize those put in place to protect and serve are really there to assault and harass. It changed my whole perspective. I don’t trust them. I don’t trust them at all.” 

Yet, despite the trauma inflicted by MHPD, Tranell’s fighting spirit remained unbroken, and when he came to ArchCity Defenders for help, we did everything we could to support his fight. 

Triumph and New Beginnings

First, our team worked with Tranell to defend against municipal charges brought by Maryland Heights, charges that Tranell believes were intended to prevent him from pursuing action against the officers for their violent abuse. After securing acquittals on these charges, ACD filed a federal lawsuit on Tranell’s behalf in 2021 for excessive force and unlawful search. The story made national news and spotlighted St. Louis County’s disproportionate rate of stopping and unlawfully searching and seizing Black drivers compared to white drivers.  

“What normal people have – mothers, fathers,
or grandparents who could help – I didn’t have that.
I had you guys. You guys were my family
when I was going through all those times.” 

Over the course of litigation, Tranell struggled and faced displacement from his home, but as part of our holistic legal advocacy model, ACD’s social services team was there to support him in finding new housing and securing resources for rental assistance and furniture. 

“The social services team helped me find a new home and connected me with Home Sweet Home, which helped me get furniture. At the time, I wasn’t able to do that myself. You guys have been there, assisting me on any level that you guys could. You’re in good hands if you’re with ArchCity Defenders.” 

Finally, in the summer of 2023, nearly seven years after the brutal events that changed his life, Tranell settled his lawsuit against Maryland Heights. Though monetary damages can never repair the harm he endured, Tranell describes the support ArchCity provided him as life changing. 

“ArchCity Defenders aided me on a massive scale more than once. It’s the most help I ever had in my life from anybody. You guys were my support system. What normal people have – mothers, fathers, or grandparents who could help – I didn’t have that. I had you guys. You guys were my family when I was going through all those times.” 

With the settlement funds, Tranell was finally able to achieve a life-long dream: opening a mobile mechanic business.  

“I started working on cars when I was a kid. It was one thing that my mother’s husband showed us but never did for us. He made us get hands on and learn it. And now I got my own business. It’s called On the Road Again Mobile Mechanic. It’s been doing real well. I’ve been getting calls, going out, executing, and making good relationships with people. The settlement funds were a huge help.” 

Why Your Gift Matters

Despite the adversities he’s faced because of St. Louis’ long history of systemic racism, Tranell holds steadfast belief in the potential of St. Louis. He envisions a future where our communities feel safe and protected, and so do we. 

“What I love about St. Louis is the opportunity,” he told us. “There’s a lot of opportunity here. What I would change is – shoot, I would change a lot (laughs), but I would start with the people that we put in office, because that would change a lot of things in the community, especially the policing. We need some strong leaders that’s really for the people and I think that’s where it all starts. ArchCity Defenders is definitely one of those leaders.” 

While Tranell’s kind words mean the world to us, the truth is his triumphs are a testament to the fact that he never gave up, and it is the resilience and courage of our community that will allow us to move us forward towards a future where racial justice and equity is realized. The role of ArchCity Defenders is to be there with them. After the attention fades, the cameras move on, and the news has lost interest, we will keep fighting alongside our clients for as long as it takes. Your gifts help to make that possible. 

Please make a gift to ArchCity Defenders this year so that we can continue to stand with our clients in the fight for justice in St. Louis and beyond.