Malcolm X stated that “the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.” Over half a century later, his words still ring true.
On Tuesday, January 14, a gathering of elected Black women prosecutors from across the United States appeared at a community forum at Harris-Stowe State University in a show of support for St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner. Each woman had her own story to tell about personal attacks regarding her ability to do her job. They came to show our community that Gardner’s experience is “emblematic of the types of attacks Black women prosecutors have faced around the country.”
A prosecutor and a registered nurse by profession, Gardner understands the root causes of how a traditional criminal justice system operates. She has acknowledged that “it is the failed system of healthcare, failed systems of education and economics that drives the criminal justice system.” Gardner has implemented a series of programs and policies designed to reform, mitigate, or eradicate practices that historically contribute to the mass incarceration of Black, Brown, and poor people within the St. Louis community.
The Felony Redirect Program is one of the successful diversion initiatives Gardner implemented to address harms caused by mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline. She has dismissed certain cases labeled “Taken Under Advisement” in order to eliminate potential barriers to employment; she has started a Conviction Integrity Unit; she has strengthened the Victim Witness Protection Services Unit; and she has supported Implicit Bias Training. Her Opioid Addiction Education program allows low-level offenders to attend a four-week course designed by medical professionals to assist in treatment, safety, and deterrence.
She also has supported independent investigations of officer-involved shootings, and she has worked with members of Missouri’s General Assembly to enact meaningful criminal justice reform. Yet, the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association has called for Gardner’s removal from office “by force or by choice.”
St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura O. Jones is, by far, one of the most educated, experienced, and professional persons ever elected to that office. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Finance from Hampton University and a Master’s degree in Health Administration from Saint Louis University. She has served as the 8th Ward Democratic committeewoman and a state representative in Missouri’s General Assembly where she was selected assistant minority floor leader and made history as the first Black and first woman to hold the position.
After her election as treasurer in 2012, Jones immediately began increasing transparency, integrity, customer service and monetary assets for the City of St. Louis. She modernized parking operations and fee collection. She launched both the Office of Financial Empowerment and the College Kids Program that helps over 13,500 public school students start educational savings accounts. To date, the program has accumulated approximately $1 million dollars. Jones’ Report to the Community on February 6 reported that the Office of the Treasurer had implemented four of the calls to action from the Ferguson Commission’s 2016 report.
Jones has recently come under fire for awarding a parking services contract to Hudson and Associates, LLC. In an editorial, the Post-Dispatch attacked both the contract and Hudson, even though Hudson and Associates was one of three finalists who emerged from a complex scoring process of the 11 companies bidding for the contract. Sheila Hudson, the Black female owner of Hudson and Associates, LLC, formerly worked as an employee of a vendor under Jones’ predecessor. She then served as a subcontractor for two subsequent vendors prior to responding as a prime contractor to the RFP for parking operating services.
In a response to the Post-Dispatch editorial, counsel for Hudson and Associates pointed out that no work had been done and thus nothing paid due to the suspension of parking enforcement during the pandemic. The Post also ignored Hudson’s immense experience and qualifications for the job. Rather, it relied upon character assassination through innuendo, sensationalism, and crude exaggeration.
Both Gardner and Jones have worked against extraordinary odds to perform their responsibilities on behalf of the citizens of St. Louis. They are met with opposition at every turn. Add to this the vitriolic communications each receives daily. Both have reportedly received emails from individuals calling them the N-word and saying things like “hope you catch CoVid and die,” as well as other despicable statements.