Jackson County Prosecutor’s Election Marred by Anti-Police Racism and Bias Attacks | KCUR
4 mins read

Jackson County Prosecutor’s Election Marred by Anti-Police Racism and Bias Attacks | KCUR

A candidate for Jackson County prosecutor was falsely accused of racism and bias against police in a video posted on social media and a poll.

Melesa Johnson, a Black woman who serves as Mayor Quinton Lucas’ public safety director, said she has been smeared as a bigot for speaking out about the Black community and the criminal justice system and that she has “the courage to speak out about these realities that we have to face.”

Johnson will face two other Democrats in the Aug. 6 primary: John Gromowsky, a white assistant Jackson County prosecutor; and Stephanie Burton, a black defense attorney. The winner of that contest will face Republican Tracey Chappell. Incumbent prosecutor Jean Peters Baker is not seeking reelection.

“We can’t talk about crime and law enforcement without talking about race and how do we balance those scales and how do we develop policies that make sure people are treated fairly every step of the way,” Johnson said. “And I, especially as a woman of color, cannot and will not shy away from the importance of that.”

A Facebook group called “Citizens for a Safer Jackson County,” which bills itself as a political group but is not registered with the Missouri Ethics Commission, which tracks campaign finance reports, posted a video in which Johnson was called a “bigot.” Many commenters on the post accused Burton’s campaign of creating the piece. Burton did not respond to multiple calls and emails seeking comment for this story.

In a grainy video shot last fall, Johnson campaigns in front of a mostly black audience at a skate event in Swope Park, saying, “Nobody’s going to save us. And unfortunately, we’ve come to a point in our community where we’re doing exactly what white people want us to do.”

Johnson said the recording took her words out of context.

In a recent poll, a campaign strategy that mimics public opinion polls but uses biased question wording to manipulate potential voters, people were asked whether they would be likely to vote for Johnson if they knew she was serving in a mayoral administration that the poll falsely accuses of trying to “take millions of dollars from the police budget.”

The poll also asked whether voters were likely to vote for her because she “was a strong supporter of the riots following the murder of George Floyd,” saying she called them “intentional and righteous anger.” Johnson did not remember saying that specifically, but said she supported the protests and did not call them “riots.”

John Gromowsky, an assistant Jackson County prosecutor, campaigned at the July 4th Sugar Creek Parade in Independence, Missouri.

John Gromowsky, an assistant Jackson County prosecutor, campaigned at the July 4th Sugar Creek Parade in Independence, Missouri.

Gromowsky said his staff had not released the poll and he had not seen it.

“Our campaign is focused on uniting all parts of Jackson County,” he wrote in an email.

Gromowsky’s candidacy was endorsed by three local police unions, including the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 99 in Kansas City.

Johnson, who said she doesn’t have the “luxury of being soft on crime” because she lives in the Oak Park neighborhood on the city’s east side, believes her opponents are trying to discredit her among white male voters over 45. She said she sought support from all over the city and was the only DA candidate in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the Pride parade and the Juneteenth parade.

“I’ve always been about unity,” she said. “But I’m not about putting aside the history and the current experiences of black people, who are the ones who bear the brunt of this problem, so that we can all get along.”

Johnson said the video, which some said was released by Burton’s campaign, was particularly hurtful.

“There were a few tears of frustration, pain, feeling misunderstood, being treated unfairly,” she said. “To see such false, misleading and nasty race-based play in another black woman’s campaign was devastating.”