“Everything was quiet, and now this” she said, with an air of disdain in her voice. I was tempted to explain it to her, but in the context of the business I was trying to conduct, I let it go.
You may not have heard, but St, Louis is again the focus of daily protests by BLM activists. This time, the catalysts was the not guilty verdict of a white (now former) St. Louis police officer, Jason Stockley, who had been accused of murdering Anthony Lamar Smith, a young black man, and then planting a gun on Smith to cover it up. Here’s the condensed version of the incident: Stockley and his partner pulled Smith over, there was a confrontation in which Smith fled the scene in his car. Stockley perused the car and was heard on camera saying, “Going to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it.” Less than a minute later he killed Smith, claiming Smith had a gun. Somehow the gun contained no DNA from Smith, but did have DNA from Stockley. During the incident Stockley violated a dozen or so STL police procedures and rules, including brandishing a non-police issue AK-47, (which he had been warned not to carry when on duty), and mishandling evidence, (taking his gloves off to retrieve the gun, after retrieving something from the squad car). Oh, and his partner pleaded the fifth and refused to testify in his partners trial. The whole thing stunk of murder and cover up, but justice system being what it is, Stockley was acquitted. Thus, the new explosion of protests over the past three weeks. Although the first weekend of protests had a few instances of vandalism (broken windows), and some episodes of rocks and stones being thrown at police officers, the protests this time have been peaceful, causing none of the widespread destruction we saw three years ago. The protests have also been more disciplined and strategic, taking place in trendy upscale neighborhoods in the city, shopping malls in St. Louis County, and even white flight havens like St. Charles.
Meanwhile, regional political leaders, the local press, and many white people reacted with astonishment that our unresolved issues have once again resurfaced in the form of social unrest. “How could this happen again?’, and “this isn’t fair” they whine. Except, it is fair, because we failed, as a region, to deal with the issues raised by the Ferguson Uprising. Before the Michael Brown shooting in 2014, we could pretend we didn’t know how bad relations were between poor black communities and the various municipal police departments, but not any more.
The Justice Department investigation laid out a clear and undeniable pattern of civil rights violations by police of black citizens, who’s findings we have largely ignored. Missouri’s Governor put together the obligatory “blue ribbon” panel to study racial disparity in the region, “the Ferguson Commission”. It’s findings and recommendations were also largely ignored, and are now gathering dust on the shelf of indifference. Other than making a few minor weeks to the predatory municipal court system in St. Louis County, nothing has been done to stop the abuse that our black friends and neighbors are subjected to by the police and our “justice’ system. We have all failed here in St. Louis, me included, to make fighting institutionalized racism a priority. Our state legislature was too busy loosening guns laws, and the city was preoccupied with begging the Rams to stay in town. St. Louis made the fatal mistake of thinking the unrest was “the problem”, not a symptom of our inability to come to grips with systemic racism.
No one in this town would deny that there is a deep racial divide, but many are content to pretend, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that this divide does not infect law enforcement. How deep is this racial divide? The members of the St. Louis Police Department have two representative bodies, the official police union (the SLPOA), and the Ethical Society of Police, an organization formed by black police who believe the official police union does not represent their interests. By the way, the Ethical Society of Police called for Jason Stockley to be convicted of murder.