One year ago in Warrensburg, Missouri:
Has anything changed?
Well, most of us (May 31, 2020)
Why is anyone surprised? (May 31, 2020)
One year ago in Warrensburg, Missouri:
Has anything changed?
Well, most of us (May 31, 2020)
Why is anyone surprised? (May 31, 2020)
At 7:30 this morning over seventy individuals met on the east lawn of the Johnson County Courthouse in Warrensburg, Missouri for a Silent March for Justice. The march was organized via social media.
Warrensburg Police were present and escorted the diverse group of marchers from the courthouse to Grover Park.
Teach your children well:
The world has changed:
Into Grover Park:
Rally for Justice – Warrensburg, Missouri – June 28, 2020 (June 28, 2020)
Johnson Countians (Missouri) for Justice held a Rally for Justice early this afternoon in Warrensburg on the lawn of the Johnson County Courthouse.
Local ministers offered prayers and several individuals spoke to the crowd of over fifty people.
The event lasted a little over an hour.
Yesterday evening in downtown Warrensburg, Missouri around 150 individuals gathered to protest the circumstances of the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
The march was scheduled to start at 6:00 p.m. Warrensburg Police, Johnson County Sheriff’s Department deputies, and Missouri Highway Patrol officers were present. There were drones. The protesters marched south on Holden Street to the Quad on the campus of the University of Central Missouri. Most wore masks. While on the Quad, next to the First Amendment plaque at the base of the flag pole, one speaker offered a prayer and a second speaker spoke of history and change. The group then marched back to the Johnson Courthouse lawn where they kneeled for eight minute minutes, forty-six seconds. The march ended at about 7:15 p.m.
Marching on Holden Street.
On the Quad on the campus of the University of Central Missouri.
On the Johnson County Courthouse lawn, eight minute minutes, forty-six seconds.
There were at least two drones.
Uh oh (May 30, 2020)
Why is anyone surprised? (May 31, 2020)
You may have seen the flag above as you are out and about. If you live in West St. Louis County, you may have seen it waving proudly on a row of light posts fronting the BMW of West County showroom on Manchester Blvd., alternating with the traditional American flag. A few folks in St. Louis County display them in front of their houses. Most of these displays, at least those that I’ve seen, also have signs declaring their support of the police which are far more common.
The flag is known as a “Thin Blue Line” flag or, as it has been controversially labeled more recently, utilizing the phrase most often employed in opposition to “Black Lives Matter,” a Blue Lives Matter flag. The thin blue line stands for the idea, according to Wikipedia, “that law enforcement is a Thin Blue Line that stands between chaos and order or between criminals and the potential victims of crime, and it is primarily used to show solidarity with police.”
Where’s the controversy, you ask? We all support the police. If government is to be effective it must have a well-funded enforcement arm. It’s that well funded part that should ensure that it’s also well-directed and in possession of sufficient funds to hire the very best candidates and guarantee that they serve all the people in an accountable and transparent fashion.
But for some, the fact that a policeman did it, whatever it is – and as long as it’s not done to them – means it’s okay. That attitude certainly means that we can hire our police lots cheaper, and since plenty of fools think keeping taxes hyper-low is the name of the game, no matter how it may endanger civic well-being, one can see the appeal. There is also the tendency to, in the words of conservative Federalist contributor Rachael Lu, “virtue-cloak” a profession that we respect, insisting, against any emergent evidence to the contrary, that all members of the profession are what “we know they should be.”
In this regard, I am reminded of many of the policemen I’ve encountered in my life – some of them family members and their friends. Most have been conscientious, kind people who just want to do a difficult job well. But I have to admit that some – including some of those family members – lacked the mental frame of reference necessary to facilitate that desire. This is America: there’s always the question of overt or unconscious bias. There’s also the fact that there are lots of sad losers who are attracted to occupations that let them throw their weight around. It’s gratifying to little men to play at being the big man. Serious educational requirements, solid, ongoing training and rigorous psychological screening could easily address such problems.
But you get what you pay for. Support good policing standards with cold cash and you might get better policing.
The situation is also complicated by the fact that for many citizens the chaos and criminal behavior from which police have to hold that thin blue line has a black face. And they want their armed representatives to employ whatever force necessary to keep that black face where it belongs – out of their line of vision. These are, by and large, the people who have tried to distract us from Black Lives Matter concerns by elevating the police to, in the words of Lu, “quasi-sacerdotal” status.
Evidence? Remember when you saw your first Blue Lives Matter sign or flag? I don’t know about you, but I never saw any of these devices until just about the time black folks took to the streets to demand accountability from a police force they experience as out-of control instruments of white repression. When black people began to use cell phones to document police behavior, the Blue Lives Matter train seems to have well and truly pushed out of the station, tooting it’s big old dog whistle loud and clear.
Blue lives do matter. But the fact that they are ever at risk is simply a given of the job policemen have chosen to perform – and another argument for better pay and benefits along with the outsize power over people lives that we now grant them. But hey, black lives still matter just as much as they did before elderly white folks in my neighborhood started to tie blue ribbons around the trees in their yards. And the fact that black lives are at risk, not because of their freely-chosen but risky jobs, but because they are demanding that the police serve them too rather than catering to the the prejudices of a shrinking segment of the population ought to help put those Blue Lives emblems in the proper perspective.
What really scares me about all this furor over whose lives matter? We’ve got a president sending out authoritarian feelers while encouraging police brutality, an Attorney General who makes no bones that he shares the belief that the worst criminals on the other side of the thin blue line are African-Americans, while supposedly solid, salt-of-the-earth Middle Americans find that the American flag, the one that stands for all citizens, regardless of religion or race, just won’t do the job any more. Instead they hoist flags arguably meant to encourage a special, protected police status in the face of blue line rampage. And don’t let them fool you. They understand what they’re saying when those flags go up.
By the way – maybe someone ought to give the proprietors of BMW of West County an earful. It’s their right to display whatever flag they choose, but it’s our free-speech right to let them know if we’re offended.
We read the following account about a protest action earlier this week in St. Louis, one person’s story, on social media. The source (who knows the author) and the author asked others to share it. We don’t have direct confirmation, but we know and implicitly trust the source.
A new friend of mine, a white, suburban mom, participated in Tuesday’s highway action. Please read her account. We’ve needed to pay attention for a long time. We can’t make up for that, but we can at least stop making things worse by starting to pay attention now.
“6:30 am. a long time I had watched the clock tick slowly all night long, and this was the time I’d been dreading. It was the time I knew my kids were going to be waking up, and when the minute hand clicked to its post, I knew without a doubt that a certain innocence of their childhood was forever lost. It shattered me to be locked away in a box away from them, unable to guide them and love them through their pain and confusion.
6:30 am, and I was in jail. 6:30 am, and my kids were waking up without me. 6:30 am, and I was worried about whether or not Tim had remembered to leave the tooth fairy money under the pillow. I began to cry, but then I laughed, because a pillow was the softest thing I’d thought of during this hard night, and I was so tired. It was so incongruous.
At 6:30 pm the night before, I’d gotten in the car with a friend to join a protest in support of change to our racist police and justice system here in St. Louis. Once we arrived, I was surprised and a little scared by what I learned the details of the protest would be, but I had come with the resolve to stand up for the morals and ethics I believe to be right, and I talked myself accordingly into the highway shutdown action they announced. I reminded myself of the clear details of protest that I’ve been teaching to my kids: disruptive is uncomfortable but okay as long as it is not violent or destructive; real change comes from pushing back against the status quo; the push is not always comfortable on either side, but that’s okay. The disruption and discomfort is okay, because it is carefully intentioned to create a more just reality. So, I took a breath, got in the car, helped my friend navigate, and as the protest caravan deliberately slowed across the lanes of the highway, I knew what was supposed to come next: I was supposed to exit the car and join other passengers exiting their cars to form a march that would briefly shut down the highway before proceeding up the exit ramp and then to police headquarters.
My anxiety was huge, and I don’t quite remember getting out of the car and beginning to march. But I am very clear on the details of the march itself. The organizers had laid out a situation that felt safe for all those along the highway, both protesters and non-protesters. I felt very protected by those details of care, and I found my voice pretty quickly. I also found a strong calm. I was flooded with the clearest sense that it is okay to stand up and say what is true. It was okay to say what is true; it was good to say what is true; it was the most right thing ever to say what is true: Black Lives Matter, This is What a Community Looks Like, and This is What a Democracy Looks Like!
We were loud, we were full of love, we were clear in our purpose, and yes we were disruptive. I felt okay with the disruption, though, especially because the organizers had explicitly stated the protocol in case of a fire truck, ambulance, or vehicle carrying someone in distress was to open up the shoulder and let them pass. That sounded fair to me.
As we continued the march, streams of people came to the overpasses to cheer and chant with us. We proceeded to the designated exit ramp and then began to tighten up and attempt to get everyone onto the sidewalk to continue to march to police headquarters. I was in the middle of the group, and about two blocks up we saw a line of police cars form to block the upcoming intersection, and rows of riot-gear clad police starting to march toward us. As I approached that intersection, I could hear some kind of muffled announcement over a bullhorn. I was unclear if it was from police or protesters. There was a bicycle police officer near me, and I asked him if he could hear what was being said. Was it an announcement from police? Was it a direction that I was being given? Could he tell me? He didn’t respond verbally to me, but flicked on the headlamp of his bicycle helmet in an attempt to blind me for a minute. It worked. I turned around and squinted to find a different officer to ask, and again questioned as to what was being said, and was there a certain directive I was supposed to follow? He told me that I should leave or be arrested.
I attempted to pivot and turn to a sidewalk that would lead toward a parking lot and over to a gas station, but he blocked me and said I couldn’t go that way. At that point I realized we were completely surrounded by police (an illegal maneuver referred to as kettling). I asked him which way to go, and he said I wasn’t allowed to leave. I asked quite naively but sincerely, “But didn’t you just tell me to leave?” His response? “Shut your bitch ass mouth.”
Police near me began calling out with their voices that we should all sit down where we were on the sidewalk, and so I did that. We all did that. Then the lines of riot police marched at us and next began using their shields to beat on some of the people sitting down. They didn’t beat me. I don’t know why, and it will forever haunt me as to why they didn’t beat me. Did they see something in me that reminded them of themselves? Did they look at me and think I was safe to them? They began dragging some people off the sidewalk into the street, and then roughly handcuffing them with zip ties that went on so tight people screamed. The screams made me sick to my stomach. But again, I was treated differently. Two riot officers came to me, and I cowered. No blows came, so I peered up, and one was offering a hand to me. I took it, appreciatively, because I had really stiffened up sitting on that sidewalk. They cuffed me tightly, but they weren’t gleefully demonic about it as some other officers had been. One officer picked up my backpack and looped it over my fingers behind me. I asked about my sign that I had carried (“White Moms for Black Lives”), and the other officer laughed, stepped on it, and kicked it into the gutter opening.
As they were loading us into vans, I was so grateful to see people across the street holding up their cell phones and live streaming. They were asking us to shout out our names and birthdays to them. I did that and then also shouted and asked if someone could call my husband, and gave our phone number.
So, it’s weird: I thought I was being arrested, but I wasn’t really sure. No one said, “You’re under arrest for xyz.” No one read me the Miranda Rights. It sounds stupid, but I literally got into a police van in handcuffs, and wondered if this was an official arrest. It felt a little bit like I was being kidnapped at gunpoint, and that was terrifying. I wondered if I was going to be carted off to a building somewhere no one knew about, and what might happen to me.
Thankfully(??), we were brought to the downtown justice center. I was one of the first few batches to arrive, and they took us up to some sort of large room with benches. We sat there, and we started singing protest songs of the 1960s to help welcome the literally hundreds more coming up after us and reassure each other that we were there united in spirit. It was actually quite beautiful and felt deeply caring. They called me up to a table to ask me some questions, and it just so happened that they called Representative Bruce Franks up to the table at the same time and I sat next to him. He wasn’t in any better legal position than I was, but it felt safe to me, him being there next to me. I trust him. However, I’m sure the very last thing a black man feels in any justice center in front of any cop is safe, and the cognitive dissonance I went through with those clashing feelings of a privileged white woman using a black man to feel safe hurt my heart. There’s just no other way to say it. It just hurt my heart.
The first small (maybe 8’ x 15’) holding cell they brought us to had a group of 28 in it. I asked about making a phone call or seeing an attorney, but was told to “Shut my mouth.” I’m a big believer in looking at badges and getting names, but the hard thing in the justice center is that very few people have name badges. They wear polo shirts and have nametag lanyards, but if they are wearing their lanyard at all, they turn it around to conceal identity. So, unfortunately, I don’t know the name of the first officer on that floor to whom I inquired about phone use. I do know the following, however: A woman in our packed cell was bleeding on her wrist from her zip ties, and there was a huge knot growing on the back of her hand that looked like blood pooling internally. I do not exaggerate when I say that it was the size of an egg. We knocked on the door to try to get help for her, but only received the response of an officer using her middle finger to “count” each of us inside. A few minutes we decided to chant “medical emergency” to see if they would respond. An officer did come to the door, but he did a little dance to the rhythm of our chant, and then walked away. It was disgusting. We worked together to help her loosen one of the zip ties to get that hand out, and then had her hold that hand up above her heart. I saw her later being moved, and she had an ice pack and looked okay.
Throughout the night, we were all randomly moved and shuffled to various other cells for no apparent reason. Sometimes the group was 35 or larger, sometimes around 12. They left the zip tie cuffs on for various amounts of time for different groups, but my cuffs were on for 3.5 hours. All told, I was held for about 15 hours. In that time, we weren’t given information, they didn’t tell us the charges, I wasn’t read my rights, we weren’t given food, we had to beg to get a sip of water from a drinking fountain, and we weren’t given an opportunity to make a phone call. That’s not how you think it is supposed to be, right? Right.
But also in that time, the highly educated and wise women I was jailed with created our own opportunities. For instance, we held a teach-in, going around the room and taking a few minutes to educate about something we felt passionate about. I talked about Prop P in St. Louis county and the need to organize to demand that our municipalities use a racial equity lens in crafting their budgets with this new windfall of money they’re each about to receive. I learned about a new social-work based approach to computer coding, legal observer training, and the effects of new immigration policy in the social structures of San Antonio communities. Much of the time, however, we simply sat quietly and waited for the time to pass.
For a few hours in the night, everyone around me in the cell stretched out on the floor and benches to sleep. I remained sitting up and awake, because it didn’t feel safe to sleep. I thought it was important to document anything that might occur in that time. For instance, during those hours in the middle of the night, there was no organized watch for us on that floor. I honestly think they forgot we were up there. If someone had experienced a medical emergency, I hate to think what could have happened.
There are so many other injustices I witnessed in these 15 hours that I could name for you, but instead, here is the crux of what I need you to hear: I’m fine. I was there awhile and now I’m home. That’s really all there is to it. Volunteer Jail Support workers stayed up all night to make sure we were all okay and that our loved ones knew where we were. We came out to applause, pizza, donuts, coffee, and hugs. If the worst of the worst happens and you’re arrested with a huge group of protesters, now you know what it looks like to have that happen. It’s uncomfortable, but it is nothing that should scare you away from the work that needs to be done.
The really important part is this: Do you have any idea how many people aren’t fortunate enough to say that they are home now? So many. Too many. Tamir Rice. Philandro Castille. Walter Scott. John Crawford. Trayvon Martin. Freddie Gray. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Young black men are nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police. NINE TIMES MORE LIKELY. One in every 65 deaths of young black American men is a killing by the police.
I am a middle aged suburban white woman, and I’ve described the unjust and illegal treatment I received when I exercised my legal right to protest a broken system. Please think about what that means for those who don’t look to have all the obvious privilege that I have in my life. If you have a voice, it is time for you to use it. If you have feet, it is time to put them on the ground and march. We need 2,000 out there, not 200. We need so many that they simply can’t arrest us all. Because make no mistake: The police are coming for our rights. We’ve threatened their status quo, and they are on a massive power trip to show us who really owns the streets. It’s not supposed to be them, but unless more people start showing up to check their power, it will be them. The good news is that our numbers are growing, and we have righteous justice, love, and truth on our side.
It’s coming up on 6:30 am again before long. What are you doing today? #joinme”
We’ve been hearing lots about policing in relation to the African-American community. We’ve seen graphic evidence of police overreacting to small or even non-existant provocations, ending in the death of black citizens; we’ve also seen, in Dallas and here in Missouri, in the St. Louis suburb of Ballwin, retaliatory violence visited on innocent police officers who were doing their jobs in an unexceptionable and even, as in Dallas, superlative fashion.
In spite of efforts to look at and address the causes of these events in a dispassionate and fair way, lots of folks insist on using them to choose sides: it’s the black or the blue, they seem to say, you can’t be both. The situation becomes even more fraught when you realize that blue is often standing in for white, as in old, white geezers who are scared s***less by black.
But police departments are themselves black and white as well as blue. How they deal with their internal integration issues so that blue trumps both black and white can tell us a lot about the credibility, or lack thereof, of our police when it comes to questions of policing and race.
And the message we’re getting isn’t really that good. In lots of police departments neither the white nor the black police officers trust each other enough to use the same organizations to voice their concerns. That’s certainly the case with the St. Louis Police Department, the dominant PD in my region, where white officers’ views are voiced by the St. Louis Police Officers Association, and black officers are represented by the St. Louis Ethical Society of Police.
In St. Louis, the concerns voiced by the black officers’ Ethical Society reinforce the perception of a department where problems of racial bias persist. The group recently issued a report, the Comprehensive Evaluation of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD), which documented claims that the STL police force is rife “with unwritten, written, and subjective practices that have hindered their [i.e. African-American officers] professional growth.” According to the Ethical Society report, the same biases also result in less effective policing in communities of color – a problem that could be partially addressed by a police force more comfortable with diversity within its own ranks.
If you question the claims of blue-on-blue bias in St. Louis, you have only to consider the behavior of the president of the white officers organization, Jeff Roorda, whose latest breach of good taste was a twitter post blaming Barack Obama for the shootings in Dallas. Roorda has a history of borderline and sometimes overtly racist statements, pitting police against people of color. His leadership role in the STL Pollice Officers Association makes it clear why black officers do not feel that that organization can speak for them or for their community.
I suspect that similar situations may prevail, even if more subtly, in other cities where black police officers feel the need to choose separate representation. And until we have police departments that can effectively deal with the diversity within their own ranks, all officers, black and white, speaking and acting in an ultimately unified fashion, we will not be able to, prima facie, trust white officers who are charged with policing black communities, no matter how diligent and well-meaning any individual officer may be.