ST. LOUIS — Public defenders from the region marched through downtown St. Louis on Monday to speak out against police brutality and a criminal justice system they say is rigged against black Americans.
Monday’s downtown rally of more than 100 public defenders and supporters touched three courthouses in St. Louis, beginning at the Missouri Eastern District Court of Appeals, pausing outside the Thomas F. Eagleton federal courthouse and ending on the steps of the Old Courthouse. At each stop, speakers condemned systemic racism and highlighted historic court cases and ones they believed had unfair outcomes.
“Our clients tell us every day that they can’t breathe,” Kelly Jackson, an investigator with the St. Louis Trial Office told the crowd. “It is our job to ensure that they are not suffocating.”
Leading the march through downtown were Deputy District Defender Erika Wurst and District Defender Matthew Mahaffey, who took over the office in February.
Outside the federal courthouse, the crowd lay down for nearly nine minutes, the time 46-year-old George Floyd was pinned beneath a Minneapolis police officer’s knee May 25 before Floyd died. As the minutes ticked by in silence, Mahaffey shouted what each minute represented including “state inaction,” “police brutality,” “crying for help,” “pain and agony,” “gasping for air” and finally “what it’s like to be black and brown in America. Enough! This has got to stop.”
The rally headed east on Market Street to the steps of the Old Courthouse where Assistant St. Louis Public Defender Cecilia Appleberry read part of the historic 1857 Dred Scott decision that originated in St. Louis.
Appleberry, who is black, then gave an emotional speech to call attention to what she believes is an oppressive criminal justice system against blacks, quoting author James Baldwin who said “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. '
“I am angry. I am frustrated. And I am so very tired of what has been happening to black people in this country,” Appleberry said. “We’re marching today because black people continue to suffer at the hands of law enforcement agencies. The number of black people who continue to be murdered by police officers is unacceptable, and we will not stand for it."
She continued, calling “the modern police system is just a manifestation of racial oppression” and that “there can be no progress” when prosecutors deny the role of race in the criminal justice system.
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