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Bruce Franks is a near shoo-in for a seat in the Missouri state house, but the 32 -year-old cautions ahead of Sundays presidential debate in St Louis that electing Donald Trump would set back criminal justice reform by decades

After his nine-year-old friend was shot dead by a St Louis crack dealer, but before one of his friends was killed in a hail of police gunfire, it resulted to Bruce Franks that he didnt genuinely cry any more. So he had a teardrop tattooed under each eye to replace his own.

His facial ink stood out on the streets of Ferguson, where he carried a handwritten sign telling those who would typecast him that he was also a college-educated business owned, a spouse and a father. In suit they didnt get the message, next he is taking it to the Missouri legislature.

We can march the working day, but eventually marching is not going to change things, said Franks, the newly installed Democratic nominee for an ultra-safe seat in the country house of representatives. We can protest the working day, and protest is much needed. But its not enough.

Franks, 32, is one of a band of young protesters, blooded in Ferguson following the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown two years ago, who have pushed their route into the political system of St Louis, the troubled towns closest major city, where the second US presidential debate will be held on Sunday evening.

As they try to reform the criminal justice system from the inside, however, Franks and his fellow protester-politicians are troubled by the prospect of waking up on 9 November to something that they say would jeopardize their plans and like-minded endeavors across the US.

Electing Donald Trump as chairperson would take this country back to the 1950 s, Franks said of the Republican nominee for the White House.

I I cant even find the words to describe how bad it would be for what were trying to achieve, said Rasheen Aldridge, a 22 -year-old Ferguson activist who is running to be a committeeman.

Amid a fiery national debate about race, crime and shootings by police, Trump has aggressively styled himself as the law and order candidate, pledging to further empower policemen, as his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, allies herself with the mothers of black men killed by police and declines to seek the support of the nations biggest police union.

Trump has said that a recent spike in assassinations in Chicago could be stopped in one week if the citys police department, which is currently under investigation by the US justice department over potential racial disparities in its use of force-out, simply got tougher.

He resists federal sentencing reforms that have been espoused not only by Clinton but even by some rightwing Republican who share her desire to reduce the prison population nationally and abandon draconian mandatory penalties for narcotic offenders.

He has promised to direct the Pentagon to resume supplying police with the various kinds of controversial military equipment deployed against protesters in Ferguson. Bipartisan outcry about warzone-like scenes there after the fatal police shooting of Brown in August 2014 resulted Barack Obama to block the transfer of some hardware. Clinton supported the presidents decision and was endorsed by Browns mother, Lezley McSpadden.

Trump also champions stop and frisk, the aggressive street-searching that has been disproportionately directed at black and Latino humen, as a necessary tool to reduce violence, despite outrage from Americans of color about racial profiling and a continued decline in violent crime in New York City even after a sharp curtailment in the NYPDs use of the tactic.

Clinton, meanwhile, wants new laws against racial profiling and$ 1bn for training officers to avoid racial bias. I will call for white people like myself to set ourselves in the shoes of those African American households who fear every time their children go somewhere, she has said.

Franks
Franks during the protests in Ferguson, in 2014. Photo: Scott Olson/ Getty Images

For Franks and his allies, Trumps criminal justice manifesto threatens to undo tentative progression induced since Ferguson, by giving policemen free rein to use lethal force, fostering chiefs to crush demonstrations with heavy weaponry and shattering the already fragile relations between police and minorities in many cities.

A St Louis native, Franks said he has lived through a youth of unwarranted hassle from police. He has known friends killed by law enforcement, such as 25 -year-old Cary Ball, who was shot 21 times by police in 2013. He has mentored young men with misdemeanour sentences desperate for a second opportunity. He has retreated down Fergusons West Florissant Avenue while policemen dressed as soldiers fired teargas and advanced on protesters in tanks.

Franks, who owns an insurance dealership with his wife, was born in 1984, like Trumps middle son, Eric. When the latter are six, and Eric was building Lego cities on the floor of his fathers Manhattan office while listening to his dealmaking, Franks was mourning his older brother Christopher, who was killed during a gunfight between rival drug dealers on a stoop just across a park from where Trump and Clinton will debate on Sunday evening.

You havent gone to these neighborhoods, Franks said he wanted to tell Trump, who frequently says on the campaign trail that the scale of urban violence is clear when you go to Ferguson, despite not having actually visited the town himself.

You cant speak about Ferguson, said Franks, who calculates he has been to 140 funerals. You didnt be submitted to Ferguson. You may not have been a presidential candidate, but you were still a big figure in the United States. A lot of people came to Ferguson. You didnt.

But even Trump, who has told advocates that as chairman he would direct his attorney general to investigate the Black Lives Matter movement, would struggle to caricature Franks as an anti-police activist or Clinton stooge.

Franks, who supported Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination, last month won a landslide victory in a rerun of his primary race against incumbent representative Penny Hubbard. The do-over was ordered by a judge who found serious irregularities with the absentee ballots that initially clinched victory for Hubbard, who sits on Clintons Missouri leadership council.

Aldridge, the even younger protester running for committeeman, is seeking a similar legal appeal after “losing ones” own primary thanks to a torrent of absentee ballots for Hubbards husband, Rodney, who was seen hugging Clinton during her visit to the area in March.

And while explaining his plans over a breakfast of coffee and home fries at a cafe in the citys Old North section this week, Franks was repeatedly interrupted by St Louis police officer eager to congratulate him on his recent election win or to exchange valuable rumor. This guy is a superhero, said Lt Latricia Allen, wrapping her limbs around Franks.

Ive got a plan on that, trust me, Sam Dotson, the St Louis police chief and mayoral candidate, whispered to Franks in response to a complaint about some of Dotsons officers, which Franks then declined to share. The pair have become unlikely friends. We disagree about a lot of stuff, said Franks, but we keep talking.

It was Dotson who, in 2014, came up with the idea of the Ferguson effect, the theory that, after the unrest, a decrease in community involvement by police and sinking policeman morale had emboldened offenders into an uptick in offending and violence.

Many of the same conservatives sold on Trumps depictions of American law enforcement coming under siege have cited the theory to explain increases in handgun crime in cities across the US.

With murders up 10.8% nationwide last year, the biggest single-year jump in decades, some liberal analysts also now allow that there may be a connection between outrage over police killings of African Americans and a rise in violence.

But in St Louis, slayings had started to climbing well before Browns death. An analysis of the citys crime data concluded that the Ferguson protests were not responsible.

Dotson stands by his theory, but claims that, in St Louis at least, the Ferguson Effect ended in late 2015, following the first anniversary of Browns death. Police officers have intuitions, he told the Guardian earlier this year. This is something that I cant quantify, but after August of 15 I felt our community take a breath.

In Ferguson, a 20 -minute drive north from the site of Sundays Clinton-Trump debate, the scars of disorder remain visible in the vacant lots where burned-out stores once stood, and audible in the furious voices of a minority of voters now looking to Trump to turn things around.

Michael Brown was a piece of crap. He was a thug, said Jason Klobe, 44.

Billy Bruns, a 90 -year-old veteran of the second world war and a Ferguson resident for more than 50 years, who cast ballots for FDR, Truman and JFK, said: Brown deserved to be shot by the policeman, who was protecting his own life. Officer Darren Wilson said he shot Brown because the 18 -year-old turned and charged at him after running away from a physical struggle at Wilsons patrol vehicle.

Clinton is in no realistic danger of losing in November to Trump in St Louis County, the million-resident grouping of 90 municipalities including Ferguson. But there is little indication that she can do anything better than watch Missouri slip ever further out of reach for Democratic presidential nominees, who have not won the country since her husbands re-election campaign 20 years ago.

Even in the birthplace of the movement that has influenced her new criminal justice agenda, support is lukewarm for Clinton, who has been dogged by her notorious 1996 statement that some young delinquents were super-predators who must be brought to heel.

Rasheen
Rasheen Aldridge, 22, who is running to be a St Louis County committeeman, said he cant even describe how bad a Trump presidency would be for criminal justice reform. Photograph: Jon Swaine for the Guardian

Fergusons 2016 presidential primary turnout was down on 2008, the last period that both parties had competitive contests. While Clinton beat Sanders with a winning margin 19 percentage points smaller than Obamas over her eight years ago, both Trump and Ted Cruz exceeded John McCains winning total from 2008, Cruz edging Trump by four votes.

Campaign finance filings tell a similar story. Since the August 2014 unrest, just one person from Ferguson and the surrounding half-dozen zip codes has contributed enough to Clintons presidential campaign to show up in FEC public records, which logs the individuals who devote a total of $200 or more.

The donor, a 52 -year-old computer technician from nearby Florissant, dedicated her $300. During the equivalent two-year period in the 2012 election cycle, 66 people in the same region were recorded contributing $33,421 to Barack Obamas re-election campaign.

Those campaigning for criminal justice reform remind themselves, however, how worse Novembers alternative would be.

Im not doing backflips for Hillary, said Franks. But theres not one legislator who up to this phase has constructed every right decision. We talk a lot about people deserving second chances. Legislator shouldnt be exempt from that.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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