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Recent Missouri editorials

August 25, 2020 GMT

The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Aug. 23

Halting evictions has its own problems

Missouri housing advocates want to prevent landlords from evicting tenants for at least six months. But doing so creates its own problems, without addressing the underlying issues.

As the News Tribune reported Friday, Kalila Jackson, the senior attorney with the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council, in a virtual conference call with housing advocates and the media, addressed Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice George W. Draper III, saying: “You have the legal authority and a moral duty to issue a statewide eviction moratorium, in order to prevent mass evictions in the state of Missouri.”

Housing advocates have sought the ban since spring. They say the options for people who lose their homes after falling behind on rent because of losing their jobs to the pandemic are moving into shelters, motels and cars, doubling up with other people in other housing units, or living on the street — none of which are ideal situations for individuals or their communities to stay healthy during the pandemic.

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Some 243,000 evictions would be filed in coming months, said Tiana Caldwell, a leader of KC Tenants. She based this on data from Chicago consulting and investment banking firm Stout Risius Ross, LLC.

There’s already been a federal moratorium on evictions through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that lasted until July 25.

But keeping up the ban here in Missouri means landlords won’t be paying their own bills and supporting their families. Kicking the can down the road will put them out of business. Then, not only are they not providing housing, but they’re also in the unemployment line.

If a ban continues, renters’ back rent will mount, and the odds they’ll catch up on payments will decrease. When the ban is lifted, landlords eventually may have to evict those tenants. Then, they’ll have to swallow the losses and hope they can stay in business.

It’s a short-term solution to what’s becoming a long-term problem.

Simply asking the state to foot the bill isn’t feasible either. Missouri, which is constitutionally required to balance its budget, has had to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in its budget due to shortfalls caused by the coronavirus.

We don’t pretend to have a perfect solution, but it must involve the community. Here in Jefferson City, there are many caring United Way agencies that offer various types of help, as well as churches and individuals who are generous with their time and money. That, combined with landlords who work with their tenants on payment plans, should provide a start.

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The Joplin Globe, Aug. 21

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and lawmakers should ensure that all ballots — including mail-in ballots properly submitted — will count in the November election.

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Missouri law requires ballots to be received by election authorities by 7 p.m. on Election Day. The U.S. Postal Service has sent an advisory recommending that all voters casting mail-in ballots in Missouri post them by Oct. 27, a week before Election Day. The deadline to request a ballot by mail is Oct. 21.

U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has come under fire for mail delays as he has implemented changes including removing mail sorting machines, reducing overtime, removing iconic blue mailboxes and requiring mail to be held on busy routes.

DeJoy has said the changes are necessary because the Post Office is losing money, but President Donald Trump told Fox Business Network at one point:

“Now, they need that money in order to make the Post Office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots.

“Now, if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”

Though he later backed away from that statement, the changes have resulted in mail delays and the advisories sent to officials in 46 states.

The Post Office has shown losses for more than a decade, and most of the loss is actually created by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act passed by Congress in 2006. The law requires the Postal Service to calculate its likely pension costs for at least the next 50 years, and then pay enough money to the federally administered fund to cover the bulk of those retirement obligations. No other entity faces such a requirement, and the annual payments take a huge bite out of the revenue the service brings in.

There are other drains on the postal bottom line. The same law tied postal rate increases to inflation and required rates be set by the Postal Regulatory Commission. The Post Office must file requests for any rate increases but cannot negotiate deals outside that structure or raise rates quickly as costs change. That has made it difficult to adapt to the collapse of first-class mail volume as email, social media and texting replaced most personal mail. FedEx and UPS also have taken a chunk of revenue from package shipping, though Amazon ships through the Postal Service and both of the commercial shippers rely on the Post Office to complete shipments to remote locations.

In Missouri, while absentee ballots can be turned in to the local election authority, mail-in ballots — a new option lawmakers approved to protect the vulnerable during the pandemic — can only be returned by mail. The option to return the ballot in person would offer a workaround for the mail delays. The governor and lawmakers should amend the system to allow that as a stopgap for our postal woes.

DeJoy has said he is suspending the problematic cost-cutting initiatives until after the November election. He is poised to address those issues at a Senate hearing today then to appear before a House panel on Monday with Robert M. Duncan, chairman of the USPS Board of Governors.

Congress and the president also should approve additional funding for the Postal Service. In the pandemic, many depend on it for essential goods including medicines and the foundational right in our representative democracy, the right to cast your vote and have it count.

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The Kansas City Star, Aug. 21

As an unarmed Black teenager lay on the ground in the parking lot of a Go Chicken Go restaurant last November, he told a Kansas City police officer, “I can’t breathe.”

The officer’s knee was on his head, according to an eyewitness statement given to the police department’s Internal Affairs Unit, and the 15-year-old would later say he felt like he was choking when he repeated those chilling words, now familiar to all Americans.

The young suspect and a friend had led police on a brief high-speed car chase. Officers thought the pair might have been involved in an armed robbery, but that turned out to be wrong.

The police pursuit ended in the parking lot of the fried chicken restaurant at 51st Street and Troost Avenue. Officers ordered the two suspects from their car, then told the 15-year-old passenger to crawl to them across the pavement, as a safety measure, according to later statements.

After the teenager complied, Sgt. Matthew Neal — an 18-year veteran of the department — allegedly slammed the young suspect’s face into the concrete, breaking two of his teeth and gashing his face. Neal placed his knee on the boy’s head, according to a statement from another officer in the parking lot that night.

The teenager feared he would choke to death. “I was telling them that I can’t breathe, and y’all are choking me,” he told Internal Affairs.

He did not resist arrest, he said. “Every time they was asking me something, I would say no sir, yes sir,” he told investigators. “That is why I do not understand why they slammed my head like that and started choking me.”

The young man, now 16, was not charged with a crime. He was taken to the hospital, and his head was stitched.

On Friday, a Jackson County grand jury handed up an indictment charging Neal with 3rd-degree assault, a felony, in connection with his actions that night. The charging documents say Neal was issued a subpoena, but declined to testify.

“Our victim was a 15-year-old passenger who was cooperative with police,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said in an emailed statement. “He ended up in Children’s Mercy Hospital with a gash on his head and broken front teeth.

“I hope all involved in this case and our community will rally around this victim and support him,” she said.

In a statement, Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith said the department is committed to the legal process. “All of us want justice,” Smith said.

Neal, like all criminal suspects, is entitled to the presumption of innocence as the prosecution goes forward. But the case proves once again that the Kansas City Police Department’s internal oversight and discipline procedures are woefully inadequate and in need of an immediate overhaul.

The suspect’s mother filed a citizen’s complaint after the incident. Following an investigation, the police department’s Office of Community Complaints sustained the excessive force accusation against Sgt. Neal.

Neal remains on the police force, the prosecutor said Friday. In his statement, Chief Smith said Neal was placed on administrative leave after the Office of Community Complaints investigation.

The nature of any other discipline for Neal, if there was any, has not been made public.

On Friday, Baker said her office did not learn of the incident until spring, at least three months after it happened.

“I simply can’t be blindsided by a lack of information,” the prosecutor said at a news conference. “There’s a need for a better reporting structure.”

Only independent oversight can protect the public from the misbehavior of some officers. But repeated calls for a completely independent, civilian review procedure for police excessive force complaints have long been ignored in Kansas City.

“The review process is broken,” said Tom Porto, a lawyer who has worked with the family of the young arrest victim. “A review process independent of the police department would immediately equate to more confidence from the public.”

The department’s leadership cannot claim it was unaware of this incident. After the complaint was sustained, Neal should have been fired immediately.

The Office of Community Complaints initially sustained a misconduct accusation against a second officer, Dylan Pifer, who was directly involved in the arrest that night.

After pressure from Chief Smith’s office, that finding was reversed. The office argued, incredibly, that Pifer may not have seen Neal’s use of excessive force, and should therefore be let off the hook.

Yet Pifer stood next to the suspect and helped put him in handcuffs, the officer told Internal Affairs. “I was on the left side (of the suspect) and Sgt. Neal had the right side, and I believe I went into high-risk handcuffing,” Pifer said.

Office of Community Complaints Executive Director Merrell Bennekin nevertheless accepted the explanation offered by the police chief’s office and withdrew the finding. “We find the rationale and explanations provided in support of a change … to be compelling,” he wrote to the chief’s office.

“There will be no record of this incident whatsoever included in your personnel file,” the chief’s office then wrote Pifer.

Pifer’s role here deserves intense scrutiny. In May of 2019, he shot and killed 30-year old Terrance Bridges, an unarmed African American, after a chase. Pifer was not publicly disciplined in the Bridges case.

The findings of the Office of Community Complaints, and the criminal case against Neal, rest in part on the testimony of Officer Kevin Summers, who was also on the scene that evening.

“Sgt. Neal placed his knee on (the suspect’s) head holding his head to the ground,” Summers told Internal Affairs in a signed statement.

Was the teenager’s head slammed into the ground, investigators asked, or pinned to the ground? “Both,” Summers said.

There were several dash-cam videos available to investigators, documents show. None included the arrest of the suspect.

It took enormous courage for Summers to describe what he saw that night, and his testimony now is critical. The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners must make it absolutely clear that any retaliation against Summers would be unacceptable and cause for dismissal.

At the same time, it isn’t clear why any of the officers in that parking lot, including Summers, failed to intervene when they saw what Neal was doing to the young man on the ground.

The lack of police intervention in George Floyd’s murder led to criminal charges against silent officers, and anger across the country. This outrageous incident in Kansas City raises similar questions about police officers’ unwillingness to do the right thing in real time.

Supporters of the police department often say rank-and-file members are honorable men and women. They’re right. But the good cops know who the bad cops are. The good cops must not enable rogue officers by staying silent.

They must step up to stop violence when they see it.

The Star Editorial Board has argued relentlessly for local control of the Kansas City Police Department. We have urged civilian review of charges of police brutality. And amid unwavering resistance to needed changes within the department, we have called for Chief Smith’s resignation.

The charges against Sgt. Neal underscore the urgent need for major reforms in the Kansas City Police Department — and for the police chief to be replaced.