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ArchCity Defenders’ new executive director Blake Strode thinks city is falling short on reforms

ArchCity Defenders new executive director Blake Strode talked about the organization's mission to continue helping underserved citizens.
File photo | Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio
ArchCity Defenders new executive director Blake Strode talked about the organization's mission to continue helping underserved citizens.

The non-profit civil rights law firm ArchCity Defenders is a legal advocacy group established less than a decade ago in St. Louis. After the organization’s co-founder Thomas Harvey announced his resignation as executive director, attorney Blake Strode became his successor.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked with Strode, the St. Louis native, Harvard Law School graduate and former Skadden fellow. He returned to St. Louis to use his law degree to work on social and racial justice issues.

Listen to the full discussion:


Strode said his upbringing in St. Louis helped him understand the context of the region’s issues.

“This is my home; I’ve had a lot of my experiences here … so I think of my understanding of the issues of the region is informed by those experiences,” Strode said.

He said the biggest challenge facing ArchCity Defenders at the moment is pushback towards systemic changes. He gave the example of debtor’s prisons, continued fines and fees placed on impoverished people and the status quo of policing, where the president stated that police can be “rough” during arrests.

“I think all of that has a cultural impact and it makes the lives of our clients that much harder every day, it makes their experiences that much worse and it makes the fight that much tougher,” he said.

Strode said the reactions after the Ferguson uprising created a sense of urgency for change in the region, but now the commitments made are falling short on multiple levels.

“On the local level, we have lots of pushback by local court administrators and police officials about the reforms called for at the time. On the state level, we have state senator proposing to do away with certain parts of Senate Bill 5, which changed the way that municipal courts operate,” he said. “It’s a multi-level attack on even the modest changes that were made in the wake of Ferguson.”

Strode also addressed the city’s new public safety director Jimmie Edwards’ comments about “black on black” crime.

“He said something to the effect of ‘that’s on you,’ speaking to black people in St. Louis,” Strode said. “The personal responsibility narrative that goes with that is misleading and it actually is all of our responsibility to do something about those conditions.”

Strode said he is also concerned about Edwards’ plans to focus on low-level ordinance violations as a means of increasing police presence in certain neighborhoods.

“Our experience has been that that’s precisely the wrong approach. That actually leads to criminalizing people for their poverty; it leads to highly racialized policing and over incarceration,” he said. “We’re going to have to be mindful about the kind of rhetoric being used and the kinds of policy that attaches to that rhetoric.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.
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