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Protest targets Circuit Attorney Joyce for police and court reforms

Joseph Leahy / St. Louis Public Radio

About 25 protesters rallied outside the Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis Friday afternoon, demanding Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce convene a “town hall” meeting to push for reforms in police tactics and the municipal justice system.

Deputies from the St. Louis Sheriff’s Department outnumbered the group of peaceful demonstrators, lining up along the granite stairs of the courthouse’s main entrance on Market Street.  

“The story here is about the prevalent pattern of police brutality that operates within the larger social system of racism,” Michael Lhotak told reporters.

He and other representatives from groups Decarcerate, Artivists STL, and Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment have focused on the Circuit Attorney to address alleged police brutality and unfair incarceration practices.

Many protesters who gathered were also participants in nighttime demonstrations outside of Joyce’s Holly Hills home May 20 and on Washington Street near Busch Stadium May 29. They have accused police on each occasion of unlawful arrests and unjustified use of force.

Activist Elizabeth Vega, who was among six people arrested outside Joyce’s home, said she wants the Circuit Attorney to do more to address racial disparities laid bare since Michael Brown’s police shooting death last August.

“Why, 300 days later, are we still out protesting? We’re acting because people like Jennifer Joyce, who, in her public statement today, said she has no power – we cry foul and we say you have a tremendous amount of power.”

Joyce’s office has faced criticism since announcinglast month that no charges will be brought against the police officer who fatally shot Vonderrit Myers Jr. in the Shaw neighborhood last October.

During an interviewwith St. Louis on the Air Wednesday, Joyce said she does not have the purview some of her critics assume.

“I think what people don’t realize is my role as a prosecutor in reviewing this case is very, very narrow. Was a crime committed under Missouri law that night and do we have evidence to prove it? My role is not to say whether or not this officer is a racist or this officer is a good person.”

A spokeswoman for the Circuit Attorney’s office said Joyce is offering to meet privately with the groups and discuss their concerns, but representatives assembled at the courthouse refused the and said they wanted a public meeting instead.