The St. Louis Police Department doesn’t have a great record for putting its best foot forward, but, really, these guys needs some competent PR advice – which they need to follow. And Ann Wagner needs a reality check.
A relatively small bunch of stragglers leftover after the day’s demonstrations against the Stockley acquittal went on a petty vandalism spree that, if the descriptions I’ve read are correct, was at a far remove from the serious violence that racked Ferguson. They were met by scads of armed police decked out in full riot regalia and raring to go. A bunch of protestors were arrested. The Guardian reported claims by demonstrators of “aggressive responses from police, including the macing and violent takedowns of compliant demonstrators.”
This mighty victory pumped up the interim police chief, Lawrence O’Toole, to the point that next day he strutted around crowing about how proud he was that St. Louis was still “safe” and the police had “owned” the night.” His officers evidently shared that opinion since they reportedly celebrated brutally beating down a group protesting police brutality against black people by chanting “whose streets, our streets.” That chant was a step too far, even for some police, as The Guardian reports, “Sgt Heather King, president of the Ethical Order of Police, a group founded by African American officers, said: “That chant goes against the very code of ethics we swore to abide by.”
I’ve read reports on Facebooks from other folks who saw what went down. They seem to think it was harsh, as in excessive. But still, protestors vandalize private property, they get arrested. That’s fine. Throw bricks and “chemicals” at the police, police get mad. That’s life. Vainglorious boasting about how armed police beat the vandals down and gratuitiously hurt them – including folks who weren’t resisting – that’s another thing entirely. Don’t any of these fools realize how hairline delicate the situation is right now? Do they want riots?
I get the impression however, that now that the adrenaline high is fading, O’Toole realizes that he’s got to control the narrative a little better. The police chief is adamant that the only folks arrested were “criminals,” although they managed to haul in a presumably non-criminal Post-Dispatch reporter who was caught in the crush when the police moved in. You’ll also notice in many reports how, when O’Toole talks about his big victory, he’s careful not to mention that the “demonstrators” he put down were no more than a relatively small group who hadn’t heeded the call of protest leaders to desist for the evening. However, O’Toole was quite willing to whine about injuries suffered by his troops – injuries that he does not actually specify, but admits to have been mostly “moderate or minor.”
Wagner enters from the Right wing:
The merest hint of police blood shed, however, was enough to provoke Rep. Ann Wagner (R-2) to paroxysms of praise for police. In her latest email newsletter, she informs us that, “on Saturday, I had the privilege of visiting the brave men and women of law enforcement who risk their lives every day to protect us. Their work this week has been nothing short of exemplary …”. This high praise followed the text of the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis, which she tells us she is offering “in light of the recent unrest in our community.” The Peace Prayer is supposed to embody “the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi’s simplicity and poverty,” two things I’m pretty sure Wagner doesn’t really know much about.
All this hyper-respectable, authority-loving piety is coming from a woman, who, so far as I have been able to determine, has in no way indicated that she understands that there is any reason why some St. Louisians might legitimately be even a bit upset. Even her fellow Republicans, Senator Roy Blunt and Governor Eric Geitens, showed some sensitivity to the situation as well as a recognition that the issues are not cut-and-dried. Wagner, however, is carefully letting us know that for her, its a black and white situation and she thinks that the answer is, as it always has been, to color it blue.
Update (9/19): Well that didn’t take too long – Greitens’ restraint was too good to be true and now he’s back in prime form according to the Post-Dispatch’s Tony Messenger, playing to the deplorable gallery by poking an angry bee hive with a stick:
… we are following the lead of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who this weekend pinned a video atop his Twitter page of some of our officers in riot gear carrying a hog-tied prisoner through the streets of St. Louis. “Saturday, some criminals broke windows & thought they’d get away. They were wrong. Officers caught ’em, cuffed ’em, and threw ’em in jail,” he wrote.
I’m sure it’ll play well in the boonies and some suburbs, but shouldn’t the Governor be trying to help heal divisions, not make them worse?