JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Hours after riots broke loose in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray after injuries he apparently sustained in police custody, Missouri lawmakers debated a measure to bring Missouri’s laws guiding police using deadly force up to federal standards.
SB 199, sponsored by Republican Sen. Bob Dixon, would bring Missouri’s own standards for the use of deadly force in line with federal standards, which were changed after the 1985 Supreme Court Case, Tennessee v Garner. From the bill:
This act allows a law enforcement officer to use deadly force when necessary to effect the arrest or prevent the escape of a person when the officer reasonably believes the person has committed or attempted to commit a felony involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical injury, is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon, or may otherwise pose a threat of serious physical injury to the officer or another person unless arrested without delay.
Missouri’s three black senators, Maria Chappelle-Nadal, Jamilah Nasheed, and Kiki Curls, all took to the floor to declare the bill a good move for Missouri and a tangible way to show progress in the wake of months of protests and unrest after the shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.
“Do you recognize that there is a genocide going on in America right now?” Chappelle-Nadal said to Republican opponent to the bill, Sen. Rob Schaaf. “Do you recognize that there is a genocide of black men happening right now?”
“Do we want to be part of the problem, or part of the solution?” Nasheed said.
But not all lawmakers saw it so clearly. Schaaf rose to argue that the bill would handcuff law enforcement even in situations where suspects were theoretically committing crimes that would drastically impact a victim’s life. Quoting from The Merchant of Venice, Schaaf argued that someone who steals “my life savings” is effectively taking his life.
“What my concern is, is that this bill creates a situation where a perpetrator has no reason to stop when police say stop because he knows he can get away,” Schaaf said.
Senators debated a handful of amendments on the bill, including some meant to strengthen the standards by replacing the “reasonable suspicion” standard with probable cause, as well as amendments meant to kill the legislation, like one offered by Sen. Dan Brown that would permit carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.
The Senate gave the bill first-round approval, but must vote again on the legislation before advancing it to the House. With only three weeks left in the legislative session, it’s unclear whether the bill will have time to advance.
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.