Protests are roiling the streets of St. Louis. Again. A second act to the psychodrama that began to play out after Ferguson.
The story in a nutshell for those of you who have been asleep: After a car chase, a white cop named Jason Stockley, shot a black man he believed to have been involved in a drug transaction. This event took place in 2011. Evidence suggested the possibility that a member of our black underclass – individuals whose deaths rarely rate much attention – was shot in unprovoked, cold blood. Stockley was not held accountable until 2016 when he was finally charged with murder; he opted for a bench trial and was acquitted yesterday (9/15). While “all hell” did not break loose, protestors did make their response known with varying degrees of forcefulness during the rest of Friday – and will probably continue to stir of the pot of white St. Louis complacency in the weeks ahead.
Our elected officials have responded pretty well on the whole. Governor Eric Greitens, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill and Republican Senator Roy Blunt have all issued sympathetic statements (see here, here and here) that implicitly acknowledge that there is a reason for the distress so many are feeling after the verdict. They properly urge the protests, the legal legitimacy of which they do not dispute, to remain peaceful. Greitens stops there. Blunt and McCaskill, though, add a little fairy dust to the mix.
Blunt declares that ” if this verdict is met with violence and destruction, it will do nothing but reignite the fear and anger that law enforcement and community leaders have worked tirelessly to address since Ferguson.” McCaskill strikes the same chord, asserting that “The events in Ferguson shook our region to its core and forced us to face some tough realities. But since then, our law enforcement and the families and businesses they serve have begun talking and hearing each other. We can’t let today’s decision send us back to our respective corners.”
Both of these leaders express confidence that Ferguson represented a turning point, and that St. Louisians are in the process of addressing the endemic racism that seems to permeate so many aspects of the local culture. Protestors must be careful, they say in so many words, not to upset this kumbaya applecart.
So why, then, are hundreds of anguished folks parading in the St. Louis streets? Could it have something to do with the fact that they’ve been waiting to see just how much things have really changed and right now, given the same ol’, same ol’ that the Stockley verdict seems to represent, they’re not too impressed?
I’m not second-guessing the verdict. I understand the issue of “reasonable doubt.” Furthermore, I know that I only know what I read in the papers, hence my judgement is less trustworthy than that of the judge who has poured over all the evidence – even a judge who perhaps inadvertently seasoned his decision with a dollop of smug bias against those often unattractive folks who inhabit the underclass, declaring that questionable claims that the victim was armed are viable because, “an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly.”
But the verdict is still more than a little pungent. And I wonder if that stench doesn’t have lots to do with the fact that all that palaver our leaders think has taken place between law enforcement, business and local officials, all the people who they think matter, hasn’t had much to do with the facts on the ground for black folks in St. Louis.
Remember the Ferguson Commission Report? Remember all the recommendations? Can anyone tell me if two years later the region any closer to implementing even the 47 “signature priority” items? I sincerely don’t know.
An article published in the Huffington Post finds the much-vaunted changes in the corrupt municipal court system, a significant vector of local abuse that was singled out in the Report, to be “minor,” often little more than “whitewashing.” A local citizen is quoted as saying that people are “still wanting to see a conversation” – even though Senators McCaskill and Blunt assure us that that conversation has been ongoing.
The HuffPo article refers to the story of Fred Watson, a young man who was improperly arrested, lost his high paying job as a cybersecurity officer, and the middle class lifestyle he once had due to the expense of fighting the bogus claims leveled against him by Ferguson officialdom. Last week, five years after his arrest, two years after the Ferguson Report, and after a load of bad publicity for Ferguson, all charges against him were finally dropped. The implication is clear that this is still the way justice works for everyday black people in the St. Louis area – and few of them have the resources that Watson expended defending himself.
The evidence that the conversation that our Senators believe we are having is more one-sided than they think is everywhere in the St. Louis region. All one has to do is look around.
Ever since Ferguson and “black lives matter,” for example, numerous trees and postboxes up and down my street in a lily-white second ring suburb have been decorated with big blue bows and occasional signs letting us know that “blue lives matter” and “we support our police.” And off course “blue lives” do matter. But it’s still clear that my neighbors are intent on more than police boosterism; they are staking out their positions in a symbolic war, pointing out the opposition they believe exists between “blue lives” and “black lives.”
I never saw those ribbons until African-Americans had the temerity to proclaim that their black lives needed to be handled as carefully by those folks in blue as those of the white suburbanites now piously wrapping their trees and mailboxes in blue. What do you think it means about a place when the inhabitants are willing to tie a big blue bow around police brutality?
We all “support” our police – we just don’t believe that they have carte blanche when it comes to black people – pun intended. Many of us, including plenty of those folks out protesting I’m willing to bet, think that with the special authority that police enjoy comes the requirement that they be held accountable for its exercise. When that’s not the case, don’t you think maybe there might be some among us who are inspired to take to the streets?
With this in mind – along with the pronouncements of a President who urges police to “rough up” suspects, and a Justice Department that is withdrawing from Obama era efforts to reform police-community relationships – maybe it’s easier to understand why some folks think that the “conversation” won’t ever take place if they don’t become well and truly the loudest voice in the room – or in the streets.