ACLU pushing for criminal justice reform, fighting against discrimination

   

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has had a busy year so far, between fighting against discriminatory practices and for criminal justice reform, and they show no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

Currently, the ACLU is pushing a transgender rights campaign and looking to the first regular session of the 100th Missouri General Assembly, MONA is a top priority.

The Missouri Nondiscrimination Act has been introduced into the legislature for two decades and has yet in pass. In the 2018 regular session the bill was passed out of committee in the House but never made it to the floor for debate.

“MONA is really basic, it is one of my favorite bills because there like two cross outs, a little bit of bold, and then we’re done. You really don’t have to read that much,” said Sarah Baker, the legislative and policy director for the ACLU of Missouri.

The current human rights statute in Missouri protects against discrimination based on race, gender, age, and such. MONA would expand that definition to include sexal oreientation and gender identity.

“I hope that it can be seen as something that is a pro-business measure, an anti-discrimination measure,” Baker noted.

Jeffrey Mittman, who is the executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, noted that discrimination based on sexual orientation does happen and more frequently than most realize. Mittman said most don’t bother to complain because there is nothing in the law that protects against that form of discrimination.  

He pointed out that current statute doesn’t just affect those who are gay because state law allows a landlord to reject renting a someone who is straight.

“One example that haunts me from the hearings is a woman who comes almost every year to testify. She went to the hospital — she was having a medical emergency, and she needed a bed in the hospital. She was admitted and then was sitting in a waiting area where she witnessed a nurse and a doctor talking, saying ‘she is one of those people’ and then she was asked to leave the hospital,” Baker recounted.

Pushing for the passage of MONA isn’t the only issue that the Missouri ACLU is advocating for. They got involved in the St. Louis prosecutor’s race and started a voter education drive.

“We have been working on criminal justice reform, if you back into ACLU national policy, for decades,” said Baker. “And so, right now, what we are doing is working on smart justice reform, particular looking at the role of the prosecutor. The reason for that is that prosecutors have a lot of discretion — not just in Missouri but around the country.”

With that in mind, the ACLU of Missouri worked to inform voters of what prosecutors do and how their vote is in important. In St. Louis County that entailed sharing with constituents the role of prosecutors and what the current prosecutor has done and plans to do going forward.

Now they are working with the incoming St. Louis County prosecutor to think about what accountability looks likes and what is smart justice reform.

“We want an end to cash bail, we want to make sure that justice is restorative, we want to make sure that the government is as transparent as possible,” said Baker.

Alisha Shurr is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University. Contact Alisha at alisha@themissouritimes.com.