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For the People…Black women leading the way to criminal justice reform

Over a hundred people filled the auditorium in Harris-Stowe State University’s Early Childhood Education Center Tuesday as they attended “For the People…Black women leading the way to criminal justice reform,” a social justice event. Harris-Stowe State University’s Social Justice Institute partnered with the Vera Institute of Justice and the St. Louis City Branch of the NAACP to host the event.

The panel featured seven prominent African American female attorneys: Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, Costa County, CA’s District Attorney Diana Becton, George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy, Portsmouth, VA’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales, Osceola County, FL’s State’s Attorney Aramis Ayala and Suffolk County, MA District Attorney Rachael Rollins.

St. Louis Prosecutor, and Harris-Stowe alumna, Kim Gardner was also a featured panelist at the event. This event stemmed from a smaller event held in fall of 2019 that featured Gardner speaking to HSSU students.

Throughout the forum, the prosecutors discussed bail reform, police accountability, the resistance they meet in their fields and the pushback they receive from fellow prosecutors with differing viewpoints.

Attorney Rollins discussed how the community could do their part to help criminal justice reform by participating in their local elections.

“The criminal justice system wasn’t designed for us or by us, but definitely with us in mind,” she said. “When you have a problem with your police department, vote for a new mayor.”

The event also gave these progressive prosecutors a platform to inform the masses of the different reformative programs they have implemented to help the community.

Attorney Braveboy discussed her youth justice reform to grant second chances for young people.

“These children are our future,” Braveboy said. “I wanted to give my babies the same second chance that other kids get every day.”

Attorney Becton told the audience how she focuses on removing old convictions.

“I’ve delivered over 3,000 convictions to court for dismissal,” Becton said.

Attorney Mosby presented an alarming disparity to the audience, which points out how African-Americans make up 1 percent (15) of 2,300 prosecuting attorneys, mainly white Americans, in the U.S. She also talked about her efforts to shed a spot light on and prosecute corrupt police.

“We cannot be afraid to do the right thing,” Mosby said. “The job of a prosecutor is always justice over convictions.”

Attorney Stephanie Morales discussed the importance of giving second chances to individuals formerly incarcerated by helping them obtain jobs, housing and more.

Aramis Ayala informed the crowd of her bond policy reform and discussed her attempts to decriminalize poverty.

“Bail is destroying lives, leading to recidivism, breaking up families and robbing people,” Ayala said. “It also criminalizes poverty; how can we criminalize poverty?”

The event allowed the professionals to discuss the daily pushback they face from the system and the daily struggles they face as black women in the field.

Social Justice Institute Director Dr. Candice Idlebird said the community should know there are people working for them.

“The point is to let the community know that there are prosecutors truly attempting to implement programs for their protection,” Idlebird said.

She said there has been an increase in people who want to know what happens behind the scenes.

“We’re having this event now because we’re seeing a lot of ‘Community v. Police’ situations in relation to police involved shootings and the controversy that comes with it,” Idlebird said. “The people want to see reformative justice and we want them to know people are working on it even if they don’t see it.”

Gardner took the stage last. She received a standing ovation, applause and “Hands off Kim” chant from the audience.

“This is about reforming the criminal justice system,” Gardner said. “We’re not waiting anymore.”

According to event organizers, this event is one of many to come.

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