Despite many criminal justice issues percolating in Missouri, not much talk of change has emerged in the tight race next month to replace term-limited Gov. Jay Nixon, reports The Marshall Project. The state is home to Ferguson, the city that became shorthand for racial conflicts in policing after the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown. Missouri topped the nation in executions per capita last year, and is near the bottom in spending on public defenders. St. Louis has a high violent crime rate, and both Ferguson and St. Louis were admonished after Justice Department probes last year for racial bias in their court systems.
“What people want to hear is how [candidates for governor] would have responded to Ferguson,” said David Drebes, author of a political blog “Missouri Scout.” The events of Ferguson have led candidates to shore up their law-and-order bona fides. Voter turnout is higher in mostly white suburban and rural areas, where many feel a sense of anger and embarrassment about images of lawlessness seen after the Ferguson shooting. Many voters believe the lesson was not that police are too aggressive, but that state officials did not respond aggressively enough. The same dynamic may be at work in North Carolina, where upheaval after the fatal police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte last month may play to the advantage of incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. In a close governor’s race in West Virginia, an opioid epidemic has fueled campaign talk of cracking down on dealers, not treatment for addicts. “There’s still a real political opening for criminal justice reform, but in these big races the issue of policing in particular has become politicized and polarizing again — a resurrection of law and order,” said Inimai Chettiar of the Brennan Center for Justice.