By Kyle Mannisi, Opinions Editor
The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department kills citizens at a higher rate than any police department among the nation’s 100 most populous cities, but not a single officer has ever been convicted of murder in those cases.
Every time an officer-involved shooting occurs, after the evidence is made public, people contend that the outcome would have been different if the victim had done something different. It mystifies me that people can justify scrutinizing the behavior of the victim rather than the person that delivered the lethal force and was actually on trial. People who do not have frequent encounters with police often give an automatic ‘benefit of the doubt’ to law enforcement without realizing it. Lethal force has been upheld in every case to come before our legal system, and this discrepancy contributes to a distrust for the police in the community.
Police officers are people, and like anyone else, they are capable of breaking the law. The main question is, will they ever be held accountable when they do break the law? So far, the answer is a resounding no.
The past week has been tumultuous, and we have laid witness to countless disturbing events. We have seen a white police officer acquitted by a judge in the shooting of an unarmed black male in St. Louis, yet again. We have seen protests that command crowds of over two thousand out of their homes and into the streets. We have seen our government’s response to this outcry for justice, which featured a barrage of batons and faces filled with mace. We have seen riot police in full body armor brutalizing civilians, journalists, clergy, and the elderly all the same.
The St. Louis police have also resorted to a technique of crowd control known as ‘kettling’, wherein armored police squeeze a group of individuals with their riot shields on all sides while making arrests. Kettling was on a list of banned police practices established in the wake of the Ferguson protests among other reforms made to improve police-citizen relations, but the police have resorted to this tactic, regardless.
Mike Faulk, a journalist with St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was arrested with a group of protesters after being trapped. He was thrown to the ground, arrested with a boot planted on his head, and once detained, an officer pepper sprayed him directly in the face.
One activist reported “pedestrians were arrested along with legal observers, protesters, a freelance photographer, and a doctor.” Officers were also seen covering up their name tags to avoid accountability, illegally searching people and their possessions, and using various intimidation tactics.
The frequently used chant of the protesters of ‘Whose streets? Our streets’ was appropriated by riot police to antagonize and mock the protesters. The police have never owned the streets, the community owns the streets. Using this chant against the protestors is much worse than ‘unprofessional’ as Mayor Lyda Krewson suggests. It is a bold statement of disregard for what the protesters stand for and believe in. How can protesters expect police to meet them halfway when they add insult to injury like this?
If a doctrine of complete nonviolence is to be expected, then the police cannot be permitted to commit acts of violence either. One protester contends they are “nonviolent with those who are nonviolent against them,” and the police have been consistently violent.
The ACLU has sued the city of St. Louis in response to the aggressive conduct of the police and for withholding Constitutional rights. They claim that police ordered protesters and journalists to delete photos and videos they took during the encounter.
Protesters broke storefront windows and overturned some garbage cans, at one point cracking the windshield of an unattended police SUV. Police used this minor damage to justify escalating their assault on numerous protesters that were nowhere near it, despite the indifference of some business owners. One business owner remarked, “the window isn’t murdered. Nobody is going to have a funeral for the window. We can replace it.”
It is interesting to compare media characterizations of the participants of the most recent St. Louis riots to other, more damaging events. When the San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2014, their fans took to the streets, damaging businesses and setting fires. This resulted in over 40 arrests and two shootings. Ohio State fans set over 90 fires in 2015 in riots after their football team won the championship, but the media never characterized the two event’s participants as ‘thugs’ or ‘criminals’.
To the protesters, the damage they inflict pales in comparison to hundreds of years of discriminatory policies intended to suppress and control people of color. St. Louis still is one of the most segregated places to live in this country, and its oppression is very real. In a city where black people are 70 percent more likely to get pulled over than white people, it is important to continually question where all this ‘violence’ is really stemming from.