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Politically Speaking: ArchCity Defenders On 10 Years Of Fighting For Legal Justice

ArchCity Defenders' Blake Strode and Jacki Langum
St. Louis Public Radio's Lara Hamdan and ArchCity Defenders
From left: ArchCity Defenders' Blake Strode and Jacki Langum.

Blake Strode, executive director of ArchCity Defenders, and Jacki Langum, the organization’s advocacy director, talk about the group’s 10th anniversary on the latest edition of Politically Speaking.

ArchCity is celebrating this week with a live taping of its podcast, a celebration of actor Danny Glover as a Racial Justice Champion, and a day-long racial justice roundtable.

ArchCity began in 2009 as the brainchild of three newly minted graduates of St. Louis University School of Law — Thomas Harvey, John McAnnar and Michael-John Voss. They saw a need to help clients not only fight their legal battles, but get them connected to services to avoid going back into the judicial system.

“It was courageous,” Langum says of their efforts. “Everyone was betting against them. They didn’t have the resources, they didn’t have the funds, they didn’t really care what people thought of them. They just did what was right. And we are here today because those three had a vision for helping people and creating a legal system that was built for the people.”

ArchCity Defenders toiled in relative obscurity until 2014, when Michael Brown was fatally shot by a Ferguson police officer. A “white paper” research project the organization had been working on examining the municipal courts in the region took on a new significance. 

The research found some staggering statistics, Strode said. For example, on the day that Brown was killed, there were 700,000 active arrest warrants in a region of 1.3 million people.

“And that means there were entire communities, many focused in places like Ferguson, that were subject to arrest at any given moment in time,” Strode said. “And so that white paper became a really useful tool for people to better understand why it was that so many people were angry at the system, why it was that so many people rightly distrusted the police and courts and jail officials.”

ArchCity has used class action lawsuits to force reforms in municipal courts and jails across the St. Louis region. Its attorneys have also secured more than $8 million in damages, and gotten courts to forgive $5.5 million in debt.

Strode and Langum discussed municipal reform post-Ferguson on the podcast. Here’s what else they talked about:

  • Strode and Langum discussed some policy changes enacted after Brown’s shooting death, such as legislation capping the percentage of fine revenue cities could keep in their budgets.
  • They also talked about the Department of Justice forcing only Ferguson to enter into a consent decree — as opposed to more cities throughout the St. Louis region.
  • They each gave their take on how the St. Louis County Police Department should change after a jury awarded a sergeant nearly $20 million in a discrimination lawsuit.
Politically Speaking

The podcast is sponsored by the St. Louis-based law firm of Capes Sokol

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Follow ArchCity Defenders on Twitter: @ArchCityDefense

Music: “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.