We had an opportunity to advise young protestors during the Ferguson unrest, and one thing we warned them was that police officers are among the most protected of all Americans. Republicans support the police as protectors of private property and the status quo, and Democrats support them because they are organized labor. As organized labor, the police benefit from highly protective agreements negotiated with the government entities that employ them, in addition to civil service protections. Make no mistake: the courageous, mostly young people who rose up in Ferguson five years ago calling for greater police accountability set their hearts and minds on reforming the American profession most resistant to change outside of the armed forces.
A new report by the Plain View Project published by Buzzfeed analyzed the social media posts of police officers in eight departments around the country, including St. Louis. It reveals a number of St. Louis police officers making racist and bigoted comments about, for example, Black Lives Matter protestors and Muslims. If the mayor’s own chief of staff were caught posting items like these – and we would not put it past Stephen Conway – then presumably Mayor Lyda Krewson would dismiss him to show that racism and bigotry would not be tolerated in her administration. Since these are police officers, however, she merely issued a perfunctory statement that racism and bigotry would not be tolerated in city government. In the absence of any real action, that is otherwise known as tolerating racism and bigotry in city government.
We are reminded of how Krewson stood silently behind then-interim police chief Lawrence O’Toole when the veteran copper boasted that his officers “owned the streets” after a night of brutal mass arrests at a police accountability protest in downtown St. Louis. This was the night that police mocked the movement to hold them accountable by adopting its chant, “Whose streets? Our streets!” Krewson offered no objection to this hostile behavior by the public servants in her employ.
The police department itself (make sure you are seated when you read the shocking news that is to come) launched an Internal Affairs investigation of the officers who made the racist and bigoted posts. The department also told the Post-Dispatch (but not this newspaper, which was not granted the interview we requested) that it would start sensitivity training. We anticipate reading racist and bigoted posts about their sensitivity training from officers in the department when and if they start receiving it.
State Senator Karla May (D-St. Louis) responded more in keeping with the gravity of the situation and the mood of a desperate community. "Police officers that are making racially discriminatory remarks on Facebook and social media, I’m asking you, police officers, all over the state, are you willing to clean your ranks and balance the scale of justice for those who trusted you to protect and serve? That’s my ask as senator. Because if you’re not willing to do something about it, I am.” While we salute and agree with the senator and urge her to do just that, we also remind her that she is dealing with the most protected of all Americans when she vows to try to “do something about” the police in St. Louis.