For far too long, our public safety system has been rooted in incarceration, criminalization, and surveillance. It’s a system that has been failing Black and brown communities. The United States is the world leader in incarceration. Police in our country kill civilians at far higher rates than other wealthy countries. These crises disproportionately harm Black communities.
We feel it every day here in St. Louis, where the police have led the nation in killings of civilians for nearly a decade — including Michael Brown in 2014.
We deserve a public safety system that promotes the health and wellbeing of all in our communities. We need to advance evidence-based, health-centered policy solutions that address our public safety crisis as the public health emergency that it is.
In Congress, I have made transforming our public safety system a top priority. I was appointed to the powerful House Judiciary Committee, named Vice Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommitee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, and serve as a member on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.
I believe that we must dismantle white supremacy in all its forms, including in our criminal legal system and build systems of care and compassion. As your Congresswoman, I will continue pushing to transform public safety, end the war on drugs, address the gun violence epidemic, and protect survivors of violence.
Transform Public Safety
Health-based crises such as mental health and substance use disorders deserve health-based responses. And yet far too often police officers are the first responders for crises involving substance use, behavioral health issues, wellness checks, and homelessness. Unfortunately, these encounters are too often fatal. Studies have shown that people with untreated mental health disorders are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than people without mental health disorders who are approached or stopped by law enforcement.
- Pass the People’s Response Act. In Congress, I was proud to introduce the People’s Response Act – visionary legislation to end police brutality. This transformational legislation would provide evidence-based policy approaches to reduce contact with law enforcement, particularly for emergencies involving mental health crises, substance use, homelessness, and wellness checks, by replacing armed law enforcement officials with trained, unarmed health professionals. I will continue to work to deliver justice for communities that have been underfunded and underserved by providing us with the resources we need to move the response to mental health and other emergencies away from policing, prisons, and jails and instead towards care and treatment.
- End racist policing. This means enacting accountability reforms in our public safety system like ending qualified immunity, a court-made doctrine that shields police officers from accountability for misconduct and abuse, rooting out police misconduct through a national decertification and misconduct registry, mandating that the Department of Justice collect data on police use-of-force, and urging the federal government to enforce civil rights protections to ensure federal funding is not going to police departments with a history of racial discrimination.
End the Incarceration Crisis
With more than 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States, our country represents just 4 percent of the global population but accounts for more than 20 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. Even worse, nearly 70 million people in our country have a criminal record which has barred them from voting, receiving federal assistance, accessing student loans, and made it nearly impossible for them to fully participate in society. This is a dire crisis that has disproportionately impacted Black and brown people. I believe we need to end our country’s instinct to criminalize, arrest, and incarcerate and instead build systems of care that see the humanity in every person. I am proud to represent St. Louis on the House Judiciary Committee and serve as Vice Chair on the Subcommittee on Crime where I have led efforts to conduct oversight on the federal Bureau of Prisons, end mandatory minimum sentencing laws and solitary confinement, and push for reducing the prison and jail population.
- Decarcerate our nation’s prisons and jails. Throughout my first term in Congress, I have been a leading champion for the need to reduce our prison and jail populations. One of my first acts as Congresswoman for Missouri’s First District, was successfully pushing to keep the 4,000+ individuals on home confinement under the CARES Act at home and in their communities; urging the President of the United States to utilize his executive authority to grant clemency to individuals in federal custody; and introducing the FIX Clemency Act to establish an Independent Clemency Board to review the more than 18,000 clemency petitions and make recommendations for release. In April 2022, President Biden heeded our calls, granting 78 individuals clemency, including two St. Louis natives convicted on federal drug charges. But there are tens of thousands more people languishing in a backlogged clemency system. In addition to pushing forward legislation to end mandatory minimum sentencing and make it retroactive, I will continue urging the President to use his executive authority to grant clemency.
- Protect the rights of incarcerated people. I have worked extensively to standardize COVID-19 protocols and improve conditions in the City Justice Center and have been an outspoken supporter for closing the Workhouse (Medium Security Institution) after visiting with constituents detained inside of both facilities within my first few months in office. I’ve also held the federal Bureau of Prisons accountable for issues involving sexual assault, violence, and mistreatment towards people in federal custody. One of my first pieces of legislation in Congress was to restore the voting rights of people incarcerated, resulting in a historic vote in the House of Representatives. While the amendment did not pass, nearly 100 colleagues are on the record in support of ending felony disenfranchisement – adding much needed momentum to this national push. I will never stop doing the necessary work to protect the rights of all people – and that includes people behind the wall.
- Abolish the death penalty. We know that the death penalty is disproportionately given to Black and brown people. It’s barbaric, cruel, and far too often given to individuals who are innocent. In Congress, I have co-sponsored legislation to outlaw the federal death penalty once and for all. As a first-term Congresswoman, I pushed President Biden to commute the sentences of all those serving on federal death row. Our efforts have led the Department of Justice to halt all federal executions – ending a horrific spree by the Trump administration. Last year, I also encouraged Governor Parson to grant clemency for Ernest Johnson, an intellectually disabled Black man who had spent 26 years on death row. I will continue to use my voice and platform to end the cruel and inhumane practice of capital punishment – at both the state and federal levels.
Prioritize Health-Based Community Violence Prevention
The gun violence epidemic is claiming lives all across St. Louis and the country. Missouri has some of the weakest gun laws in the country and as a result it ranks 4th in the nation for gun deaths. St. Louis leads the country in its murder rate and in police violence per capita. Women and children are often the most vulnerable when it comes to gun violence in our community. This crisis is entirely preventable and it must end.
- Support community-based violence prevention programs. As your Congresswoman, I launched a gun violence prevention initiative that allowed my office to meet with families, survivors of non-fatal gun violence, community-based advocates, and activists to hear directly from those most affected by this epidemic and develop solutions to address it. I am a proud cosponsor of the Break the Cycle of Violence Act which would provide federal grants to communities for evidence-informed community violence intervention and prevention programs designed to interrupt cycles of violence. I am also proud to have pushed for a historic $5 billion in funding through the House-passed Build Back Better Act to fund community violence intervention programs. I will continue to push Congress to pass gun safety and violence prevention legislation because we know it will save lives and prevent the trauma we are facing in our community.
- Invest in Mental Health Services. I’ve met with youth and families across our St. Louis community as part of my “Congress in Your Classroom” and have heard overwhelmingly about the impact that pervasive gun violence has had on the lives of youth in our community. As your Congresswoman, and as a nurse who has worked in mental health care, I will continue pushing for robust investments in mental health services and support for youth, families, and communities disproportionately affected by community violence.
- Support trauma-informed practices in schools. In a trauma-informed school, all of the adults in the school community are prepared and resourced to recognize and respond to students who have been impacted by trauma and toxic stress. Systems and structures are built to address the underlying context that impacts students’ behavior. As your Congresswoman, I will continue to champion critical investments in trauma informed education and specifically advocate for additional increases in flexible funding to support innovative local efforts on this front (through the Every Student Succeeds Act Title IV A) and new legislation calling for a trauma informed education toolkit highlighting evidence based approaches jointly developed by HHS and the Department of Education.
End the War on Drugs
It’s been more than 50 years since President Nixon declared drug use as “public enemy number one” sparking a racist, misguided, and failed War on Drugs. Public safety is a public health issue, and that includes the use and possession of drugs. Far too often, we have criminalized and arrested people – disproportionately Black and brown people – for drugs rather than meeting them with compassion and empathy. Today, nearly two dozen states have legalized marijuana and in that time it has become a multi-billion industry. Yet, despite this, drug possession remains the most arrested offense in the country. I believe we need to adopt a new approach to drug use that is rooted in saving lives, not destroying them.
- Decriminalize drugs. There can be no doubt that we need a new approach – an evidence-based approach that does not perpetuate further harm in communities of color. I was proud to introduce the Drug Policy Reform Act – first of its kind federal legislation – to decriminalize all drugs, expunge past drug convictions, and invest in a health-centered approach to substance-use. In Congress, I will continue to work to advance this transformational legislation and ensure we both treat substance use as the public health issue it is and repair the decades of harm and devastation that the misguided war on drugs has had on Black and brown communities.
- Address the opioid crisis. St. Louis ranks among the deadliest cities in the country for overdose deaths among Black people. According to a study by the University of Missouri–St. Louis opioid overdose deaths among Black people in St. Louis City and County increased by 560% in the last six years alone. We need to address the opioid crisis, including the use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl, that addresses substance use as the public health crisis it is. In Congress, I will continue urging the executive branch to end the Trump-era policy that criminalizes fentanyl-related substances which has only further endangered people’s lives. We must invest more resources in expanding treatment and recovery options, increase outreach capacity in Black and brown communities, make Naloxone – a lifesaving opioid overdose reversal medication – available over the counter, and support health-based harm-reduction strategies that are proven to save lives.
Push to legalize marijuana. We need to divest from failed strategies that continue to direct funding toward law enforcement instead of making much-needed investments in communities. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, I worked hard to advance the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act to decriminalize marijuana, expunge records, and prioritize equitable investments in communities harmed by the war on drugs. In Congress, I will continue fighting to make sure this legislation becomes law.