Why St. Louis Is Ground Zero For Protesting Police Brutality & Systemic Racism

While St. Louisans are aware of the protests that are ongoing, it seems that there’s many people around the nation, and the world, who have no idea what is happening here. Unfortunately, to the general population, protesters are just impeding traffic and getting in the way of things, without caring about the actual message – typical St. Louisans. The current protests were sparked by the wrongful acquittal of white police officer Jason Stockley, who killed Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man. But this is just the latest indication of ongoing problems in St. Louis of white cops’ unpunished murders of black people who did nothing to warrant a death sentence. This permissiveness is part of the pattern of systematic racism and oppression that continues to pervade, or rather epitomize the city’s culture. Unfortunately, the nation only sees news of initial vandalism by a handful of people and continued mass unwarranted arrests, which only portrays a negative view of the protests and undermines the message. However, without the sensationalism, the mainstream news ignores the protests completely. This author’s aim was a short article discussing the root cause of the ongoing protests, being the underlying problem of racism within the police department and the city as a whole. However, the need of thorough explanation has usurped brevity to describe the results of over a century and a half of chronic racism at every level.

The case that ignited the current protests

Surveillance Video Still Of Stockley’s Encounter with Smith

The murder of Anthony Lamar Smith happened in 2011, when Jason Stockley and his partner claimed to have seen a drug deal go down. Stories from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, dated Dec. 21 2011, Dec. 22 2011, Feb. 3 2012Feb 6 2012, May 22 2012, pieces together the incident. It started as what the officers thought to be a drug transaction, so they pulled up behind Smith’s car. They claim Smith appeared to reach for something and demanded that he stop and show his hands, then Smith backed up and ran into the cop car as the officers came toward him, with Stockley carrying his personal assault rifle. Then Smith pulled out and sped off, with Stockley having shot at the car as it took off with his service pistol. They pursued Smith, and Stockley was recorded on video saying “I am going to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it” then rear-ended Smith after his car crashed. Stockley ran around the car brandishing his AK-47 and shot Smith 4 times with his service pistol. Smith’s wife was on the phone with him during this chase, and said that he was begging for his life before he was shot, which was corroborated with OnStar audio evidence. Stockley claimed to have found a gun and heroin in Smith’s car. After some investigation, the FBI concluded the case. Stockley was put on a 30 day suspension for carrying an unapproved firearm, assigned to desk duty afterwards, then resigned after another year. The case was ignored until activists demanded charges to be filed in 2016. Stockley was charged by the circuit attorney who found the evidence compelling enough to do so.  Stockley was later acquitted by a judge in September 2017. Here’s the video that was put together using multiple camera recordings of the incident:

What was wrong with the incident itself:

  • Firing at a fleeing vehicle, which was unjustified
  • 87 mph high speed chase in residential areas in the rain. High speed pursuit is only allowed by police in St. Louis when “the officer reasonably believes that the pursuit can be successfully conducted without an unreasonable risk of danger to persons or property”
  • Use of personal firearm, which is strictly forbidden
  • Handling evidence improperly, no gloves were used, and Stockley claims to have unloaded the firearm he “found” in Smith’s car

During the trial, key evidence was disregarded:

  • Recording of Stockley stating he was going to kill Smith, which is premeditation
  • His partner had holstered his weapon, implying Smith wasn’t a threat
  • Bearing his AK-47 as intimidation, twice
  • The only DNA found on the gun claimed to be Smith’s was Stockley’s
  • Stockley was the only one who claimed to see Smith with a gun, and never said anything to any officers on the scene about having seen it
  • Stockley went back to his vehicle, got something out of his bag, and had gotten into Smith’s car shortly afterwards, and returned to the police vehicle 3 other times
  • OnStar audio evidence was never presented

There were also several misstatements under oath. Even fellow officers with the Ethical Society of Police spoke out, calling for a conviction based on evidence.

However, the judge found Stockley not guilty, stating

Finally, the court observes, based on its nearly thirty years on the bench, that an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly.

In case you didn’t realize it, “urban” has become a euphemism for black.

St. Louis’s racism is like adjoining Mississippi: Very deep and broad, with strong undercurrents

National Park Service, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

Unfortunately this judge’s statement is only another reminder of how incredibly racially polarized St. Louis truly is, and how deep those roots go. The Dred Scott case was held at our city’s courthouse in 1857, which was a huge spark in causing the Civil War. What people who are not from the area don’t realize is that there are many distinct areas of St. Louis. There’s St. Louis City itself, which isn’t in a county at all, and St. Louis County, which has 90 municipalities, some consisting of only a few blocks. This is why there was a lot of news from Ferguson specifically – within St. Louis county – which is only 15 miles from downtown St. Louis City. This fractured division stems from racism practiced by realtors in the first half on the 20th century. There are some municipalities that consist of only a few blocks. Within St. Louis City limits, there’s a very defined line called the Delmar Divide, a street that is a boundary best described in this linked article: “To the south, home values were $310,000 on average, and 67 percent of adults had bachelor’s degrees. To the north, home values were $78,000. Only one in 20 had college degrees.” This division was created in the early 1900’s by a long-standing realty exchange agreement: “The exchange would recommend that none of its members sell or rent property outside the designated districts to Negroes.” Realtors who went against this agreement stood to lose their license. As the area expanded, maps were created by realtors and rated as A: Best, B: Still desirable, C: Definitely declining, and D: Hazardous. The ratings directly equated to the concentration of black people within the vicinity. See Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the American City for in-depth maps. While this type of segregation was made illegal federally by the Fair Housing Act in 1968 – unsurprisingly created by a case from St. Louis which stemmed from yet another – realtors still very much continue to operate in this manner. White flight is prominent in the St. Louis region, with the higher-income white people regularly moving further west and taking their businesses with them to escape the growing black population. Lightrail expansion is repeatedly denied by the wealthier west county cities, to keep black people out of these areas, and bus routes have limited times. This perpetuates poverty, not because black people are lesser humans and incapable of working, but because accessible, higher-paying businesses move further away, removing both jobs and local tax income. St. Louis City had approved a $10/hour minimum wage, but shortly after it was enacted, the governor reversed it due to pressure of white-owned businesses, reverting minimum wage to $7.70.hour. This low income causes many people to scramble to make ends meet on two or three minimum wage jobs to support their family. In single-parent homes, this can create a latchkey situation, which leaves children without parental supervision, which can contribute to juvenile crime. The poverty in St. Louis is self-perpetuating by this city’s racist culture. Meanwhile, affluent areas have many retail and food service businesses that are continually hiring, generally at a higher rate of pay than the city. The people who these businesses cater to – those who can afford to live in these affluent areas – obviously don’t work minimum wage jobs, and transit into these areas is difficult. For example, bus service in affluent white-flight Chesterfield ends around 10pm, and to get from south St. Louis City to Chesterfield via transit can take an hour and a half to two hours. This makes jobs in these areas undesirable for city dwellers. An outsider to the area, Jordan Chariton from The Young Turks was recently arrested during his reporting of the protests, and stuck in a city jail cell for 16 hours. During this time, he had a very strong introduction to St. Louis’s racism from the people who live with it daily. His video is what inspired the writing of this article:

A troubling trend

Avg is average homicide rate per year by police for the entire population. Black is the average homicide rate per year by police for the African American population

Jason Stockley’s acquittal is only the latest court case of unwarranted murder by a white police officer of a black man in St. Louis with no punishment for the officer. Three years ago, the area had huge, ongoing protests in Ferguson (a St. Louis suburb) when Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, who was not convicted. St. Louis has the highest number of homicidal police in the US, by a large margin. This is unacceptable by any rational person’s standards. I used the above tool to search the surrounding 90 municipalities for police homicides, which was an additional 17 murders by cops:

Murder by police is a very real problem that threatens St. Louisans of color. However, reports from the Ethical Society of Police  have also pointed out regular racial profiling by the police in an incredibly comprehensive 112 page report:

Racial Profiling Data for 2015
City of St. Louis
• 53,897 Total Stops
• 17,856 Caucasian
•  34,552 African-American
• 1,519 Asian, Hispanic, Latino, Other races
Total Stop Percentages
• 33% Caucasian
• 64% African-American
• 3% Asian, Hispanic, Latino, Other races
Vehicle Searches
• 4,549 Total Searches
• 26% Caucasian
• 72% African-American
• 0.3%Asian, Hispanic, Latino, Other races
Vehicle Stop Arrest
• 2,567 Total
• 21% Caucasian
• 79% African-American
• 1% Asian, Hispanic, Latino, Other races
Contraband Hit Rate
• 17.71 Caucasian
• 13.93 African-American
• 7.14 Hispanic
• 11.11 Asian
Disparity Index
• .72% Caucasian
• 1.40% African-American
• .38% Hispanic
• .23% Asian
• .28% American Indian
 Note: Disparity index = (proportion of stops/proportion of population). A value of 1 represents no disparity; values greater than 1 indicate over-representation, values less than 1 indicate under-representation.
The impact of a lack of diversity in coveted specialized units in conjunction with the SLMPD racial profiling data is concerning because the data indicates African-Americans are more likely to be stopped, searched, and arrested; yet less likely to be found in possession of contraband.
Also of note is the following: Chief Dotson has challenged arrest statistics in the Arrest Apprehension listing for 2015, which demonstrated that 75% of arrestees were African-American. He asserted robberies and assaults occur with known race demographics for the offenders. The E.S.O.P. will agree that most victims of robberies and assaults are often able to provide a description of the offender’s race. The E.S.O.P. will even state, based on experience, many of the known offenders in robberies and assaults are reported as African-Americans, especially in neighborhoods that are predominately African-American. However, self initiated patrols, such as pedestrian checks and vehicle stops (refer to racial profiling numbers) make up a good majority of the arrests by Special Operations when these officers are directed to specific areas for patrol and enforcement.

So while black people are 64% more likely to be pulled over and 79% more likely to be arrested from these traffic stops, white people are more likely to be in possession of something illegal, such as weapons or drugs. This is profiling that’s a reflection of the racism within the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, which is predominantly white, as further described by the E.O.S.P:

As shown in the previous section on February 15th, 2016: 80% of Special Operations Detectives were Caucasian, 91% of Special Operation Supervisors were Caucasian, 91% of South Patrol Detectives were Caucasian, 83% of Districts 1-6 Patrol Detective Sergeants were Caucasian, 74% of SWAT/HRT were Caucasian, 81% of Central Patrol Detective Bureau were Caucasian, 100% of the Force Investigation Unit is Caucasian, 74% of Intelligence Detectives were Caucasian, and 79% of Homicide Detectives (Rank of Police Officer) were Caucasian – with roughly 75% of all arrestees in original complaints being African-American in 2015. The numbers are not indicative of a department that is committed to diversity. Furthermore, many qualified minority and non-minority candidates are distrustful and jaded by the cronyism involved with some transfers. Many do not apply for jobs in which they qualify, believing they will not be selected despite their qualifications.

One such example of this cronyism was Jason Flanery, who was hired despite having a gun charge, while other applicants were rejected for minor city violations. He murdered a black teen, VonDeritt Myers, when he was acting as a police officer when he was employed outside of his police duties. Just over a year later, Flanery resigned after he was picked up for leaving the scene of an accident after driving a police vehicle while drunk and high on cocaine. This incident had happened after having already failed an employee drug test by the SLMPD. Had they hired a qualified candidate versus this guy, VonDeritt would be alive today.

The whole damn system is guilty as hell!

St. Louis’s mayor Lyda Krewson is ineffective. The interim St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Chief O’Toole champions the police department’s brutality toward protesters, as does the governor – the same governor, by the way, who redacted the minimum wage increase. Killer cops continue to be acquitted and put back on duty, racist cops with multiple complaints continue to patrol the streets. St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s training funds line the pockets of a tactical training company that’s co-owned by a captain and a sergeant of the police department. This corruption and racism has to end. Our citizens deserve much better than what our city government is providing us, especially our most oppressed and vulnerable residents. There’s a reason the Black Lives Matter movement started here. And unfortunately, this movement still has to exist, 160 years after Dred Scott demanded his freedom from our courthouse steps.

Related reading, posted only an hour before this: White people need to commit to dismantling white supremacy

 

Follow Panda Monium on twitter