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St. Louis U.L.J.


When asked to share my thoughts at this symposium about contemporary human rights issues in domestic criminal law—and how they manifest in St. Louis, Missouri in particular—I could not help but think of these words. Nina Simone, the brilliant vocal artist and civil rights activist, wrote these lyrics over fifty years ago and then bravely and controversially sang them for a mostly-white audience at New York City’s Carnegie Hall following the 1963 shooting death of Medgar Evers.2 Evers was a military veteran who turned civil rights activist and organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (“NAACP”) after being turned down for admission to University of Mississippi School of Law because he was Black.3 He worked in Mississippi on desegregation and racial justice efforts, including organizing business boycotts and investigating southern lynchings.4 And tragically he was assassinated in front of his own home on June 12, 1963, while wearing a T-shirt that read “Jim Crow Must Go,” by white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith.5 When the Black community, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and its allies took to the streets in Jackson, Mississippi to protest yet another fatal act of racist violence against a Black body, white police showed up with rifles, chemical agents, and riot gear.6 Although De La Beckwith was arrested and tried

two times during the 1960s for Evers’ murder—two different all white, all male juries failed to reach a verdict, setting Beckwith free.7 Current circumstances may not be identical to when and why Nina Simone boldly sounded out at Carnegie Hall.8 But in the Show Me State today, far too much of her song and its context continues to ring true.9 Politicians, academics, and others assert we have reformed ourselves as a region post-Ferguson.10 But the sad reality is that little has changed locally. St. Louis, Missouri, its institutions, and its government officials continue to cling to practices established long before the 1960’s due process revolution in this country—and that reflect lack of respect for civil and human rights.11