On May 5, 2017, Tory Sanders ran out of gas on the outskirts of Charleston in Mississippi County, Missouri. When he called his mother and asked her what to do, she told him to ask the police for help. Sanders died the next day. He did nothing unlawful — but was taken into custody by the same police officers he believed would help him. He was tortured, beaten, tased, and pepper-sprayed. He was killed less than 10 hours after being admitted to the Mississippi County Detention Center. He lived his last moments unable to breathe, with a policeman’s knee on his neck.
There have been no charges filed in this case.
Along with Rod Chapel, the president of the Missouri NAACP, I have contacted the Missouri Attorney General’s Office several times, hoping for an update on the investigation into the killing of Tory Sanders. Each time, we’ve been told that the investigation is ongoing, and the Attorney General’s Office cannot comment. The attorney general has not provided further information or guidance on the development of the investigation.
On June 28, Patricia and Mark McCloskey stood outside their mansion in St. Louis’s Central West End neighborhood and menaced peaceful protesters with a handgun and a military-style assault rifle. Images of the couple made national news and quickly circulated around the internet — an all-too-perfect visual representation of our times. Subsequently, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office filed charges against the couple for threatening peaceful protesters.
Less than 24 hours after the charges were filed, Attorney General Eric Schmitt reacted by releasing a passionate statement asserting that as Missouri’s chief law enforcement officer, he would immediately enter into this case and seek a dismissal.
I write today not to argue the merits of the criminal case against the McCloskeys. Instead, I wish to highlight the actions of Schmitt regarding these two cases — and how his actions show unequivocally which Missourians the attorney general cares about and which Missourians he does not consider worthy of attention.
The most noteworthy fact of the McCloskey case has nothing to do with the Castle Doctrine or Second Amendment rights. The Attorney General’s Office did not investigate the incident involving the McCloskeys, and its actions are based on nothing more than a blind judgment on the merits. Governor Mike Parson has already spoken about pardoning the McCloskeys — which makes Schmitt’s actions even more baffling. A pardon would only take place if, after a presentation of the evidence, a jury found Mr. or Mrs. McCloskey guilty of the crimes they are accused. Schmitt is attempting to circumvent the prosecution of the case altogether — without knowing the facts or with indifference to them; he is making it clear that his office does not care whether a crime was committed or not.
The attorney general feels this incident is so important that he must take the unprecedented action of intervening in the case of a local prosecutor — while, at the same time, he feels that the murder of Tory Sanders is so insignificant, that three agonizing years later, his office has yet to take any action at all. Schmitt responds immediately to a case of rich white lawyers waving guns around on the lawn of their mansion, while he delays any form of justice for Sanders and his family.
Unfortunately, this attention to certain lives and disregard for others is not an exception, but the rule. These two cases serve as undeniable examples of the systematic racism that permeates this nation — and a heartbreaking reminder of which lives actually matter.
Tory Sanders was a father, husband, and son. His life was taken while he was in police custody. His family deserves justice, which at the very least, includes a comprehensive examination of the case and an honest effort to seek justice.
The McCloskeys are neither indigent nor need the backing of the Attorney General’s Office; they have already hired counsel and are among the wealthiest lawyers in the state. They face a charge for which they are already being offered diversion. Yet, Schmitt acted on their behalf without conducting any investigation.
This is the unfortunate reality of Black people and other minorities in this country. Indifference is as great a problem as hatred, perhaps more so.
I am reminded of a radio interview I listened to in high school with James Baldwin, which was recorded in 1961. The host asked Baldwin about the struggles of being a Black writer. Baldwin responded:
Well, the first difficulty is really so simple that it’s usually over-looked: to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost, almost all of the time — and in one’s work. And part of the rage is this: It isn’t only what is happening to you. But it’s what’s happening all around you and all of the time in the face of the most extraordinary and criminal indifference, indifference of most white people in this country, and their ignorance.
I often think of Baldwin’s words these days. The global protests in response to George Floyd’s murder reflect the rage that many of us feel about an unjust system that condones the killing of innocent people and endorses the privilege of unlawful behavior, all depending on the politics of skin color. The protests reflect not only the rage at these injustices but also the rage that these injustices continue to be downplayed and ignored. George Floyd’s murder became a rallying cry because there were concerned citizens on the scene to record the killing. Unfortunately, in the case of Tory Sanders, the only cameras around were in the possession of law enforcement and turned off in the cell where he died.
The McCloskeys are going to be alright. In one of the chief ironies of the situation, they were never in danger. Tory Sanders, on the other hand, is still dead. His young children will never know their father. The disparity in how Schmitt has handled these two cases lays bare which lives truly matter in the state of Missouri.
“Enough is enough,” Schmitt said in a video posted to Twitter.
Enough is enough, indeed.
State Rep. Steve Roberts represents HD 77 in St. Louis. He is the chairman of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus and a candidate for state Senate.