Watching the U.S. Senate trial of the president’s impeachment, it’s not hard to feel a deep sense of helplessness at all the lies and enablers of lies. Our country’s leader spends his time lying, breeding hate and creating division — arguably doing Russia’s bidding with actions that tear our country apart.
There’s not much we as St. Louisans or local journalists can do about that. But there is something we can do about powerful players in this town who seek to divide us. One of them is Jeff Roorda, the business agent and spokesman for the St. Louis Police Officers Association. Both citizens and media outlets should stop enabling Roorda on behalf of the community his divisive rhetoric continues to harm.
On January 23, representatives for Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner held a press conference to talk about Roorda’s “atrocious misrepresentation of the facts” regarding Gardner’s December 23 traffic stop and his call for one of Gardner’s investigators to be arrested.
Redditt Hudson, diversion specialist in Gardner’s office, said that Roorda is not a police officer and does not work for the city, yet is “afforded these platforms to misrepresent facts consistently.”
“We think this is a pattern of behavior with him: character attacks, false information, accusations of lies,” Hudson said. “Jeff Roorda lost his job as a law enforcement officer for falsifying a police report and has consistently provided incorrect and false information.”
When reporters directed questions to Hudson, a black man who is a former city police officer, they were posed with a tone of disbelief and even dismissiveness. That tone completely changed when the same reporters stepped out of the conference room and into the hall where Roorda staged his own impromptu press conference. In contrast, reporters asked Roorda questions in a soft, validating tone and nodded along to his answers. It was shameful.
This is a man who just this summer — on the fifth anniversary of Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson — posted an intentionally hurtful and inflammatory “Happy Alive Day” post with a picture of Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Brown.
Roorda continuously urges police officers and the community to participate in actions that cause the community — especially the black community — harm. And he’s been doing it for years. During her 2017 mayoral campaign, Mayor Lyda Krewson called on the union to fire him after his inflammatory Facebook post about Treasurer Tishaura O. Jones, her opponent. Krewson even said that if she won, Roorda “would not be welcome in my office.”
Yet now as mayor, we have not heard Krewson denounce Roorda’s actions. Her administration, especially City Counselor Julian Bush, actively participates in the campaign to undermine Gardner, with Roorda their head cheerleader.
In June, Roorda made a Facebook post calling people to adopt the Punisher Blue Lives Matter symbol as their profile pictures, in protest of Gardner “penalizing” two city officers for posting the image. Police departments across the country have prohibited their officers from using the Punisher as a pro-police symbol because it encourages police to be the judge, jury and executioner and has been called racist in the context that it’s being used. In 2017, the Punisher logo became a symbol during the Unite the Right rally, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Following the rally, it was co-opted by right-wing hate groups, which Marvel Comics condemned. Gerry Conway, who created the character, told Newsweek that police posting the image on their cop cars was the equivalent of “a Confederate flag on a government building.”
To be clear, the police deserve a spokesperson to defend their interests. But this could and should be done respectfully, truthfully and fairly, not with hate, deceit and racist implications.
On January 15, the Ethical Society of Police (ESOP), a police association that advocates for racial justice, held a press conference to say that the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has a problem with racism, which is outlined in Gardner’s recent federal lawsuit. The union and Roorda have never stood with ESOP or their own African-American members, they said.
“It would be a powerful move if we ever heard the police union come out and state that protestors, activists, Milton Green, Luther Hall and some of the issues that African-American officers face are valid and they’re accurate,” said Heather Taylor, president of ESOP. “That would be a powerful move, instead of putting out memes of the circuit attorney and racist, homophobic and vile statements about women. Instead of targeting people. Let’s do that.”
Instead of giving Jeff Roorda a platform to target individuals – almost always black people like Tishaura O. Jones and Kimberly Gardner – it would be a powerful move to call out and counter his lies and to ignore him if he continues to spew hateful lies. Let’s do that.