ST. LOUIS—“We are not having it,” said Missouri State Senator Karla May at a community forum and panel discussion to repeal the “Citizen Arrest Law.” In Missouri it is called the Castle Law which “allows residents to use force against intruders, without the duty to retreat, based on the notion that your home is your ‘castle.’”
Senator May was joined by State Representative Wiley Price IV, of District 84, Dr. Christi Griffin, president of the Ethics Project and State Senator Steve Roberts Jr. of District 5.
The public forum was held in memory of Ahmaud Arbery by the Universal African Peoples Organization (UAPO) as a similar Georgia law was recently repealed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp in May 2021. Community activist Coffee Wright moderated the Dec. 20 forum held in St. Louis.
Amari Sneferu, a member of UAPO, helped organize the event to bring attention to the Missouri law. “To repeal such a law, it is imperative that we first recruit support from willing legislators and discuss strategies for moving forward,” he told The Final Call. “Fortunately, the verdict came back in our favor, but like the state of Georgia, I felt we should leave no stone unturned. Thus, we too should repeal any law that can be used against us,” he added.
Mr. Sneferu was referring to the Nov. 24 guilty verdicts of the three White men who killed Ahmaud Arbery, a young, Black man. Travis McMichael, 35, his father Gregory McMichael, 65, and neighbor William Bryan, 52, were found guilty of murder and other related charges and face mandatory life sentences. The defense team for the men argued that the three men acted out of self-defense and within the legal grounds of making a “citizen’s arrest” because they thought the 25-year-old Arbery might have had something to do with alleged burglaries in the neighborhood though no evidence linked him to such incidents.
Missouri’s law is more extensive than the law in other states because it permits property owners to use the amount of force reasonably perceived as necessary, including deadly force, notes findlaw.com.
“White people will always take advantage of the law because it was written for them, the laws are enforced and used against us Black people and others when it’s convenient to protect White actions,” said Rev. Richard Jackson, founder of Manasseh Ministry
“America has a history of violating the rights of our people, So, rather than to just react to that possibility of what happened in Georgia occurring in the state of Missouri, we said we would be proactive to raise the issue that no racist would be covered under the law and try to justify any unnecessary killing or brutality of a person of color,” said Zaki Baruti, UAPO’s president general.
The decision to repeal the Georgia law came because of a video of the brutal killing leaked to news media and social media resulting in national uproar and protests for over one year. At the ceremony signing repeal of the law which was attended by Wanda Cooper, Ahmaud Aubery’s mother, Gov. Kemp said, “This bill makes Georgia the first state in the country to repeal its citizen’s arrest statute.”
Dr. Christi Griffin, president of the Ethics Project, discussed nuances involving various laws and statues including Missouri’s right to bear arms, open and carry law, and citizen’s arrest.
“My opposition to the language of the Citizen’s Arrest Law is that it gives relatively unfettered power to anyone who elects to infringe on the freedom of another person without training or any of the protections afforded by a normal legal process,” said Dr. Griffin
“Missouri’s Citizens Arrest Law inexplicably and illogical grants the power to any individual to determine that a crime has been committed and having purportedly done so with limited evidence, while potentially armed, has the right to detain and arrest another individual. That law is yet another tool to support the vigilante behavior of racist Whites to police and control the behavior of Blacks and, if so desired, to shoot and kill an individual under the guise of self-defense while making a citizen’s arrest based solely on the testimony of the only surviving party or mob,” she continued.
“Consequently, it is my position that Missouri’s Citizen’s Arrest law is deeply flawed, cannot be remedied by mere language other than requiring a duty to report a suspected crime to trained officers. As such it should be repealed in its entirety,” added Dr. Griffin.
State Senator Steve Roberts, Jr., has been working to change the current Missouri law. Missouri Supreme Court decisions have recognized the right to citizen’s arrest and has codified a citizen’s use of force as a defense to a crime and codified a shopkeeper’s privilege (one who can detain a shoplifter), protecting shopkeepers from liability for wrongful imprisonment upon reasonable grounds to hold a person committing or who has committed a wrongful taking of merchandise or money, he said.
“Missouri’s use of force provision requires the actual commission of a crime by the person arrested,” he said.
Dr. Griffin argued the racial history of Missouri when it comes to the welfare of the state’s Black citizens will require more political engagement.
“The primary efforts of Blacks to achieve laws that provide necessary protections and to eliminate laws designed to undermine our freedom and economic parity, Blacks must become more politically active, more educated about the issues and candidates, must become more actively engaged in the voting process and the right to recall legislators who are violating the trust of the people or are failing to uphold the rights of all Missourians,” added Dr. Griffin.
The recommendations some panelists presented when it comes to addressing the Missouri law included:
Adding language that eliminates Supreme Court of Missouri made law arrest language to include private persons;
Maintaining protections for those defending others acting under authority they believe lawful as given by a police officer, and shopkeepers;
Clarifying any unexpected results or implications which exist under present state statute;
Protecting private citizens, the accused and peace officers by deterring would-be vigilantism.
The ultimate objective according to activists is similar to what was passed in Georgia as major reform in the wake of the tragic killing of Ahmaud Arbery.