JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A group of faith leaders from around the state dubbing themselves the “Medicaid 23” protested charges levied against them Monday morning outside the Cole County Courthouse.
In May 2014, hundreds of clergy members and faith-based leaders rallied inside the Missouri Capitol Rotunda to show their support for Medicaid expansion with prayer and song. However, Capitol Police arrested 23 of the protesters when they refused to disperse from the Senate gallery.*
More than two years later, those 23 will all stand trial starting this week on charges of obstructing government operations and first degree trespassing, both misdemeanors. Members of the Medicaid 23 counter that their arrests were a violation of their First Amendment rights.
“Justice for our friends, our family, the #Mediciad23“
— Progress Missouri (@ProgressMO) August 15, 2016
Rev. Cassandra Gould, the president of Missouri Faith Voices, which advocates for economic and healthcare equality, led the group to the steps of the courthouse. She and her fellow faith leaders reiterated their calls for increased health care and that they would overcome the charges brought against them.
“The message today is that we will continue to get in the way,” she said. “We will get in the way of politics over people.”
Jury selection for the trial and the reading of the counts began Monday morning shortly after the brief protest and prayer rally. A full list of those on trial can be found here.
The group had one legislative supporter as well in Rep. Brandon Ellington, D-Kansas City. Ellington, the Legislative Black Caucus Chair, said the trial had a racial shade to it given that most of those arrested were black.
“Protests that are far more boisterous and disruptive than what occurred in the Senate two years are common in the Missouri Capitol and rarely result in prosecution,” Ellington said. “Apparently there is a different standard when the protesters are African-American. Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson has one final chance to do the right thing and abandon this racially and politically motivated prosecution. He should take it.”
UPDATE – 12:16 p.m.: A previous version of this story says the protesters were arrested in the Capitol Rotunda. While a rally was held in the rotunda, the arrests occurred in the Senate gallery.
UPDATE – 2:57 p.m.: Added comments from Ellington.