Do Black Lives Really Matter in Missouri?

Black Lives

Do Black Lives Really Matter in Missouri?

Note: This story was updated on April 29, 2021 upon public release of the additional settlement offer.

Think something like the George Floyd murder couldn’t happen in Missouri? It already did–three years before Floyd’s 2020 death in Minneapolis. 

In early May 2017, 28-year-old Tory Sanders drew his last breath while in police custody in the tiny southeastern Missouri town of Charleston, located in Mississippi County. How did he die? His neck was pinned down for several minutes by the knee of a white sheriff.

What’s even more tragic is that Sanders actually went to the police for help. 

In route to Nashville, Mr. Sanders knew he was struggling with his mental health, according to an ABC News article. He was suffering from paranoia and told police he needed some psychiatric assistance, which was confirmed by a mental health counselor. Sanders also told police he suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, according to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article. 

However, instead of giving Mr. Sanders the help he needed, Sheriff Cory Hutcheson locked Sanders up in jail. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Hutcheson took it a huge step further. The sheriff gathered up a team of officers and jailers into Sanders’ cell–10 officers in all–where Sanders was tackled, pepper sprayed, shocked with a stun gun and beaten. 

According to news reports, it was during this time that Sheriff Hutcheson decided to add a finishing touch to the brutal assault on the “inmate”–he knelt on Mr. Sanders’ neck for three minutes, ignoring the pleas of other officers to stop according to news reports. Mr. Sanders died that day in his jail cell. 

Adding insult to injury, no one was never brought up on charges for ending Tory Sanders’ life. Neither former Attorney General Josh Hawley nor current Missouri AG Eric Schmitt agreed to file charges for Sanders’ death. 

Instead, the former sheriff was caught engaging in other illegal activities for wire fraud, identity theft, and illegally tracking more than 200 individuals. For those crimes, he spent a few months in federal prison. He was allowed to resign from his post as sheriff–never removed from office. After serving his time he was released in 2019. He still resides in the area and has resumed life there. 

NAACP Takes Unusual Action to Ensure that Black Lives Matter

What took place in that jail cell in early May, coupled with other troubling events across the state prompted the NAACP to issue a travel advisory warning for the State of Missouri. An article in Time Magazine cited several other contributing factors to the decision, including a bill signed into law that makes it much more difficult for individuals to sue businesses for discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or gender. The article also cited a report confirming that African-Americans were stopped by traffic officers 75% more often than Caucasian drivers. 

In other words, there’s a troubling pattern that suggests Black lives may not matter quite as much as the lives of white Missourians. 

How Much is a Black Man’s Life Actually Worth in Missouri? 

In the case of Tory Sanders, his family filed a lawsuit and the city of Charleston recently agreed to settle their part of the suit for $500,000. Litigation is still pending against Mississippi County, the former sheriff and jail staffers, but just yesterday, those defendants laid another $2 million on the table and are asking a judge to force his family to take the money as final settlement in the case. 

While 2.5 million dollars sounds like a lot of money, it’s important to remember that attorneys will of course get their share. What’s left will be divided between Sanders’ mother, his nine children, and their mother. That’s a pie cut into 11 slices. In reality, there likely won’t be much to set aside for comfortable living accommodations for a family that size. And then there’s clothing, school supplies, food, and transportation. There won’t be much left over to put away for a rainy day, much less college. 

Of course, financial retribution is little comfort when the life of your son, partner, or father was taken by those he turned to for help. 


OneMissouri is committed to research, education, advocacy, and policy development on behalf of all Missourians. 


Top Graphic Credit: Vince Fleming on Unsplash


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