Eight protesters endured the rain Sunday afternoon as they gathered outside the Boone County Courthouse to rally for the freedom of Rodney Reed.

Reed, a black man, was arrested in Texas in 1997 after he was accused of the sexual assault and murder of Stacey Stites, a white woman. An all-white jury sentenced him to the death penalty.

His case has garnered national attention recently as his lawyers have stated new evidence may shed some new light on the case. Protests have popped up across the country as activists urged Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to call off Reed’s planned execution, which was scheduled for Wednesday. The Texas Court of Appeals eventually halted the execution Friday.

Valerie Berta, a photographer and activist based in Columbia, organized Sunday’s rally. Berta put the event together with the help of a national organization called The Action PAC, which mobilizes people to gather for social justice.

She’s been reaching out to Abbott and the Texas attorney general through phone and email multiple times every day for a number of days, calling for action on Reed’s case.

Despite the rain, she was pleased with Sunday’s turnout.

“I’m happy that this momentum continued (after the execution was halted),” she said. “The system is so broken.”

She believes it is important to bring social justice movements to Missouri. She said when she signed up with The Action PAC, her rally in Columbia was the only one in the state. Between 50 to 60 events were scheduled to happen nationwide, and most of them were on the coasts.

“Missouri is very conservative, very backwards,” she said. “I mean, we have the death penalty here. Even though I feel like Columbia is a pocket of progressive politics, things don’t get talked about as much as they should, such as mass incarceration and the racism that is built in the system.”

Jeff Stack, coordinator of the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation, said it is important to fight for equal representation under the law.

“Up until a couple years ago, all of the prosecutors making those decisions (in Missouri) were white,” Stack said. “Disproportionally, African Americans receive the death sentence.”

He believes Missouri is a typical case of what happens in the country.

Berta said the movement will continue even after the blocking of Reed’s execution Friday.

“We’ll keep the pressure on,” she said.

Supervising editor is Kaleigh Feldkamp.

  • Community reporter, fall 2019. Studying print / digital news writing. Reach me at mariana.labbate@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700 .

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