Gov. Mike Parson Calls Special Session on Violence, After Ignoring 2019 Request

Missouri Governor Mike Parson. - TOM HELLAUER
Missouri Governor Mike Parson.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson announced today that he's calling a special legislative session on violent crime — a year after St. Louis clergy and Democrats asked for one.

At a news conference, Parson cited a spike in violent crime in recent weeks and says law enforcement officers across the state are "maxed out to the limit" after working protests in addition to the surge in killings.

"None of us, no matter where we're from, want to see our children being shot in the streets," Parson said. "That's not who we are in this state."

The special session is scheduled to begin on July 27, and the governor says it will focus on six items: a witness protection fund, witness statement admissibility, juvenile certification (the process for trying minors as adults for criminal prosecution), unlawful transfer of weapons and St. Louis' residency requirement for police officers.

Those items will give law enforcement officers more tools to tackle violence, says Parson, who is the former sheriff of Polk County. The governor was surrounded by police chiefs from across the state, including St. Louis police Chief John Hayden, during the news conference in Jefferson City. His comments were a sharp contrast to calls to defund the police, a growing movement to shift law enforcement money toward social programs, such as boosting mental health resources.

"If there is ever a time to make sure we give the resources for our law enforcement officers across the state, now is that time," Parson said. "Now is the time that we as citizens show our support for the men and women who wear those uniforms to fight violent criminals."
He noted the number of homicides are up in Missouri's biggest cities. St. Louis police have investigated 130 so far this year, including a triple last night on the border of Walnut Park East and Walnut Park West neighborhoods. That's about 30 more than last year at the same time.

"Innocent children are being shot and killed far too often," Parson said.

That was a point a wide variety of clergy, lawmakers and legislative groups, including the Missouri Black Caucus, hoped the governor would address last summer as a series of child killings rocked St. Louis. Parson did call a special session last September, but it was to deal with car sales tax credit backed by automotive dealerships.

Asked today why he was calling for a special session on violence this year but not in 2019, Parson claimed he didn't remember anyone asking last summer.

"You mean last summer?" he asked a reporter. "I'm not for sure whether there was [a request] or not. I don't know. They could have."

One strategy that won't be part of the special session is any discussion of allowing cities to set more stringent gun laws, Parson says. St. Louis and Kansas City have asked repeatedly to set their own rules in hopes of curbing gun violence, but the governor said that's too complicated for a special session.

Parson, a favorite of the NRA, has campaigned on preserving Missouri's gun laws, among the loosest in the nation. After a phone call with Donald Trump on Wednesday, he made a point of enthusiastically supporting married St. Louis attorneys Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who pulled guns last month on protesters marching past their Central West End mansion. Parson and Trump blasted St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner for investigating the McCloskeys, who continue to claim they were defending themselves form a murderous horde. The governor returned to that theme today while discussing violent crime.

"We cannot continue to let violent criminals destroy our cities and get away with it," Parson said. "We are better than that in Missouri. We need to stop worrying about law-abiding citizens and start focusing on the real problem of violent crime."

Trump has railed against the police protests that spread across the country after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, frequently painting protesters as violent thugs. The McCloskeys insistence that they were moments away from being slaughtered and having their home burned to the ground — a claim contradicted by video — fit into Trump's narrative of out-of-control mobs.

"When you look at St. Louis, where two people, they came out," Trump told the conservative website Town Hall. "They were going to be beat up badly if they were lucky. If they were lucky. They were going be beat up badly and the house was going to be totally ransacked and probably burned down like they tried to burn down churches. And these people were standing there, never used it and they were legal, the weapons, and now I understand somebody local, they want to prosecute these people. It's a disgrace."

There's no evidence in videos of the confrontation that marchers were planning anything beyond walking past the McCloskeys' house on their way to Mayor Lyda Krewson's home. Asked if Trump had any suggestions for alleviating violent crime in Missouri, Parson said he mentioned the special session to the president but that wasn't Trump's focus during the call.

Parson said, "He really was probably more on the issue in St. Louis that he was talking about — the family up there, the McCloskeys."

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected] or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.
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