The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department needs to cut out its “cancer,” city residents testified at the aldermanic Public Safety Committee meeting on Monday, June 10. And the cancer is the police officers whose bias is so overwhelming that they’ve shown they can’t be in a position to take someone’s liberty away.
The meeting was a response to the recently unveiled Plain View Project, a database of public Facebook posts and comments made by current and former police officers from several jurisdictions across the country.
Of the 44 St. Louis city officers documented in the database, 23 of them are still on the force, said Police Chief John Hayden at the meeting. Their posts included hateful, racist remarks about minorities, various religions and protestors. But possibly some of the most disturbing posts were those that included just a symbol — the skull of the Punisher. The Punisher is a fictional Marvel character who fights crime using means of murder, torture and other violent methods. The symbol is frightening because it shows support for police officers acting as the judge, jury and executioner.
At the aldermanic meeting, the police chief said that the posts range from “deeply insensitive” to some that “were not as insensitive as some of the others.” He didn’t mention where the Punisher posts fall on that range.
Three of the “most egregious” offenders were put on desk duty, while the police department conducts an “extensive investigation,” the chief said.
Alderman Joe Vaccaro, chairman of the committee, set the tone for the meeting when he said that the posts don’t reflect the police department because “this is less than two percent for the police officers.”
Alderwoman Carol Howard (D-Ward 14) later said in her comments, “These are a few and they are being dealt with. And I think that’s reassuring.”
At that point, Cachet Currie, a city resident who was allegedly assaulted by then-police union spokesman Jeff Roorda at a January 2015 meeting in that same room, jumped up and said, “Pay attention to the two people who are saying it’s only two percent. It’s still a problem.”
Vaccaro threatened to throw her out, but Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards stepped up to the microphone and told Vaccaro, “Two percent is too much. I don’t want to suggest that we are proud of that. Maybe 98 percent are trying to do the right thing – or haven’t been caught yet.”
This exchange stirred up a series of speakers who then tried to prove that it was the latter.
Sgt. Heather Taylor, president of the Ethical Society of Police, an association that advocates for racial equity in police work, said that the Ethical Society’s members are livid and don’t feel safe around the officers outed by the Plain View Project.
In 2017, some of her fellow officers liked a post that stated, “I hope she bleeds out on a call.” Lt. Adam Koeln, acting under then-interim police chief Lawrence O’Toole’s leadership, told her it was the officers’ First Amendment right to say that and the department didn’t step in, she said.* But the city initiated a process that ruled (in her favor) that it was misconduct. The officers received one to three days’ suspension, but she still has to work with them, she said.
“Do you think I turn my back to them?” Taylor said. “I would never turn my back on them, because I don’t trust them. That’s the reality for African Americans and other minorities.”
They also documented racism in the police department in a 112-page comprehensive evaluation released in 2016.
“It’s been used in state and civil court,” she said. “And it hasn’t been refuted. It’s exhausting the amount of racism that's within our police department. That two percent. That’s what they choose to state. It’s much more than that. It’s a reality for us because we see it every day.”
Ferguson activist and citizen journalist Heather DeMian spoke about a current police officer named Shane Coats who she said threatened to harm protestors and journalists in his posts in 2015. He is also documented in the Plain View Project as saying things like, “Ha!Ha! There’s a novel idea bring your own medical services to the riot!” in response to an article about police open firing on protestors when they tried to bring a woman to them for medical aid. Coats just posted on Twitter on May 19, “Never turn your back on the feral,” referring to African Americans.
“He’s still on your force,” DeMian said, despite the police department’s September 2018 social media policy. She also told the board that the FBI warned that white supremacists were infiltrating police departments.
Bill Monroe, a former police officer and community activist, said he saw the KKK embed themselves in the police department during his time on the force.
“I am one of the few black police officers that will admit to having at least three fist fights, primarily in the 8th district,” Monroe said. “These fist fights were with white police officers who sought to abuse our people, to take advantage of them and even try to kill them.”
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and Edwards announced after the Plain View Project report was published by Buzzfeed that all police officers must take the sensitivity training. But Monroe said, “It’s way, way past that.”
Some aldermen asked whether the department has the ability to fire these officers, seeing that the posts came before the social media policy announced in September 2018.
Personnel Director Richard Franks said yes because every civil service employee is still required to abide by the employee code of conduct.
Hayden said that egregious acts could be considered “conduct-unbecoming” and the employee could be disciplined, including dismissal.
After the posts came out, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said that she will review the cases that the officers in question are involved in — and that she plans on throwing out these cases.
Activists taunt cops with projected images
Activists gave some St. Louis city police cars new “bumper stickers” on June 3, by projecting the images of current and former police officers’ discriminatory social media posts.
They projected the Confederate flag and a racist post about Islam, both which came from Facebook posts from city officer Thomas Mabrey.
On the wall of the St. Louis Police Headquarters on Olive Street, they projected a July 2013 Facebook post from officer Michael Calcaterra that read, “They said, ‘F--k the police,’ so I said, ‘F--k your 911 call. I’ll get to your dying home boy when I finish my coffee.”
Projections were part of a series of actions from the activists groups, the Justice Cup and Artivists. On May 30, the activists projected messages on the Enterprise Center, including, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom.”
Two women also attempted to unfurl a banner on stage during the national anthem at the Stanley Cup Street Festival and Viewing Party in downtown St. Louis. Two police officers pulled it away just as they got it opened.
The groups have a long list of demands, including issues of climate change, LGBTQ, accessibility, state sanctioned violence, immigration and others.
“They are radical,” said Elizabeth Vega, leader of the Artivists. “We are seeking to not just change the injustice but transform our culture into a world that we can truly reimagine for our children and grandchildren.”
The list of their demands are posted at https://tinyurl.com/justice-cup-demands.
*The sentence was corrected from the original story, which stated that Lawrence O’Toole told Heather Taylor this directly. It was Lt. Adam Koeln.