Volume 57

Unlawful Silence: St. Louis Families' Fight for Records After the Killing of a Loved One by Police

by Emanuel Powell

I did not cry when I learned my cousin Ronnie had been killed by the police. I asked my mom if the family was okay. I asked what happened. She told me they only knew the story the police were telling—that my cousin had inexplicably run out of his house shooting a gun and been shot dead by multiple officers. I told my mother to let me know if she needed anything and eventually hung up the phone. I finished reading for the next day’s law school class and slept fitfully. I returned to school the next day.

My family had become another one of the thousands who lost loved ones to police shootings or other forms of state violence. In the days and years following the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and countless others, this seemed almost inevitable for a black and working-class family like mine. As of the writing of this piece, my family is still waiting to learn from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations about the circumstances of Ronnie’s death.

This Article begins with a discussion of the barriers families face in gaining information on the circumstances of their loved ones’ deaths by police. It then turns to policies and practices regarding documentation of police incidents and other relevant government records, and how local government practices create obstacles to families’ access. The Article then explores Missouri’s existing public records law, how it should be used to address these barriers, and the ways it fails to do so today. Finally, the Article identifies potential approaches to overcoming these barriers and ensuring that families have access to the information they need.

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