Wednesday, 13 September 2017

In St. Louis, The Politics Of Police Reform Are Tougher Than Ever.

(Ji-Sub Jeong/HuffPost)
ST. LOUIS Last month, just over three years after a police officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, authorities started erecting barriers around the Carnahan Courthouse and police headquarters in downtown St. Louis.

The city was bracing for a verdict in the first-degree murder trial of Jason Stockley, a white St. Louis police officer who killed 24-year-old Anthony Smith in 2011. Prosecutors said Stockley was carrying his personal AK-47, an unauthorized weapon, and that he “executed” Smith following a car chase and planted a gun in the man’s vehicle. A dash cam recorded Stockley saying “I’m going to kill this motherfucker” as he pursued Smith’s vehicle.

Stockley resigned from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in 2013, but wasn’t charged until 2016. Thinking he’d have better luck with a judge than the citizens of St. Louis, he waived his right to a jury trial. His fate was in the hands of St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson.

Today, more than three weeks after the trial wrapped on Aug. 18, there’s still no word from the judge. Activists have pledged to shut down the city in the event of a “not guilty” verdict. “This movement is definitely ready to take it up a notch,” Tory Russell, a Ferguson protester, said during a press conference by the courthouse. He pledged 100 days of protest. Clergy members told the judge last week that there’d be blood on his hands if he didn’t find Stockley guilty. 

The city of St. Louis is on edge once again.

The fact that Stockley even went to trial for the 2011 shooting could be seen as a sign of the ways St. Louis and Ferguson have changed since the Ferguson protests. There have been other indications as well. Last year, St. Louis elected Kim Gardner as its first black circuit attorney, and Gardner has spoken about the need to build trust, deal with violent crime and reform the criminal justice system. St. Louis County’s abusive municipal courts have seen some reforms, and some troubled police departments have dissolved or been consolidated. Some protest leaders have gone into politics. The St. Louis County Police Department is trying to increase diversity. In Ferguson, a number of city officials who were in office when Michael Brown died including the police chief are gone, and the city is being watched by a federal monitor. And the attention surrounding the Stockley trial demonstrates that the protest movement in St. Louis is alive and well.

But elsewhere in Missouri, outside the city of St. Louis and the Justice Department-monitored city of Ferguson, progress on broader police reform hasn’t just been piecemeal — it’s been virtually nonexistent.

Many Missouri voters want to “let the police loose and crush this rebellion,” former St. Louis Alderman Antonio French told HuffPost last year. Tough talk on crime dominated the 2016 Republican gubernatorial primary and the Missouri governor’s race, with evidence everywhere of a backlash against the movement that grew out of Ferguson. Eric Greitens, the Republican nominee for governor, attacked then-Attorney General Chris Koster, his Democratic opponent, for what Greitens called an inadequate response to the Ferguson unrest. Greitens’ campaign published images of a burning police car and said the riots were “yet another example of do-nothing politicians who don’t go to the front lines.” He complained about media coverage of Ferguson, claimed that better leadership could have brought about “peace by the second night,” and called for the “harshest penalties in the country for assaulting a law enforcement officer.” After Greitens won the election and was sworn in, he signed a Blue Lives Matter-style bill that made officers a special protected class.

Full story at Yahoo News.

By Ryan J. Reilly and Rebecca Rivas | A partnership between St. Louis American and HuffPost ,

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