The Missouri Democratic Party's new leader called for the release of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal and, as a state legislator in 2017, vocally opposed a law that heightened penalties for those who harm police officers.
Former state representative Clem Smith became acting party chair in early July after county prosecutor Jean Peters Baker stepped down from the role. While working as a United Auto Workers secretary in 2008, Smith signed a Partisan Defense Committee letter calling for the "immediate freedom" of Abu-Jamal, who is serving life imprisonment without parole after murdering Philadelphia officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.
As a state legislator, Smith also rallied against a 2017 bill that imposed tougher penalties on those who harm police officers. The bill reclassified voluntary manslaughter against a police officer from a "class B" felony to a "class A" felony and also made rioting against police—previously a misdemeanor—a "class E" felony. Smith voted against the bill, saying that if the law was in effect during the 2014 Ferguson riots, "we'd have to build another prison." His Twitter profile depicts a police vehicle damaged by fire and explosives that appears to stem from the riots.
Smith's rise to the top of the party comes amid civic unrest and historic crime levels in the state's Democrat-run cities. Peters Baker, who serves as prosecutor of Kansas City's Jackson County, left the post of party chair as the city neared 100 homicides in 2020, including the July 2 shootings of two police officers. Kansas City saw just 54 homicides at this point in 2016, nearly half the current level. In response, Attorney General William Barr on Thursday announced the decision to send more than 100 federal law enforcement agents to Kansas City following a request from Republican governor Mike Parson.
The Missouri Democratic Party did not respond to a request for comment.
Smith served in the Missouri House from 2011 to 2019 prior to his role with the state party. He is listed as an "institutional supporter" of the St. Louis Workers' Education Society, the self-described "headquarters of the Communist Party USA in Missouri." Smith has also given multiple interviews to People's World, a communist online publication that bills itself as a "one-stop shop" to get news "with a Marxist viewpoint woven in." Smith in 2018 endorsed Communist Party USA national board member Tony Pecinovsky for St. Louis alderman.
Democratic state auditor Nicole Galloway, who is running to unseat Parson, has not yet commented on the change in party leadership. Uniting Missouri PAC, which backs Parson, called on Galloway to denounce Smith, calling him "radical."
"Lighting police cars on fire, praising cop killers, and supporting avowed communists is pretty radical stuff," chairman John Hancock said. "Frankly, I'm surprised Nicole Galloway hasn't denounced Clem Smith yet."
Galloway did not respond to a request for comment.