Why St. Louis Is Ground Zero For Protesting Police Brutality & Systemic Racism
While St. Louisans are aware of the protests that are ongoing, apparently that there are 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. Residents ignore the actual message that the police must stop killing citizens. The current protests were sparked by the wrongful acquittal of white police officer Jason Stockley, who killed Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man. However, this is just the latest indication of ongoing problems in St. Louis: 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 reports of the initial vandalism by a handful of people, as well as continued unwarranted mass arrests. This portrays a negative view of the protests, undermining the message. However, without sensationalism, mainstream news ignores 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 both the police department and the city overall. 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
The murder of Anthony Lamar Smith occurred in 2011, initiated by Jason Stockley and his partner, who claimed to have witnessed a drug deal. Stories from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, dated Dec. 21 2011, Dec. 22 2011, Feb. 3 2012, Feb 6 2012, and May 22 2012 piece together the incident. It began with what the officers thought to be a drug transaction and pulled up behind Smith’s car. The officers claimed Smith appeared to reach for something, so they demanded he stop and show his hands. Smith backed up and ran into the cop car as the officers came toward him, with Stockley carrying his personal assault rifle. Smith then pulled out of the parking lot and sped away, Stockley firing at the fleeing car with his service pistol. Pursuing Smith, Stockley was recorded on video saying “I am going to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it,” prior their vehicle rear-ending Smith after his car crashed. Stockley ran around the car brandishing his AK-47. He then shot Smith four times with his service pistol. Smith had been on the phone with his wife during this chase. She said Smith was begging for his life before he was shot, which corroborated with OnStar audio evidence. Afterward, Stockley claimed to have found a gun and heroin in Smith’s car. Following an investigation, the FBI concluded the case. Stockley received a 30 day suspension for carrying an unapproved firearm, assigned to desk duty afterwards, then resigned after another year. The case went dormant until activists demanded charges be filed in 2016. The circuit attorney found the evidence compelling enough to charge Stockley. However, Stockley was acquitted by a judge in September 2017. Below is the video of the full incident, assembled from multiple camera recordings.
What was wrong with the incident itself:
- Firing at a fleeing vehicle, which was unjustified
- 87 mph chase through 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
- Stockley’s handling evidence improperly, using no gloves, including 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 the 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 three other times
- OnStar audio evidence was never presented
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. Unfortunately, this judge’s statement is yet 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. This case denied Dred Scott his freedom, declaring he was property, which was a huge catalyst in causing the Civil War.
St. Louis’s racism is like the adjoining Mississippi: Very deep and broad, with strong undercurrents
People unfamiliar with the area don’t realize there are many distinct areas of St. Louis. There is St. Louis City itself, which is not in a county. Surrounding the city is St. Louis County, comprised of 90 municipalities, some having a radius of only a few blocks. This the reason there was so much news from Ferguson specifically three years ago — within St. Louis county — which is only 15 miles from downtown St. Louis City.
This fractured parceling stems from racism practiced by realtors in the first half on the 20th century. Within St. Louis City limits, there is a very defined line called the Delmar Divide, named after a street that is a boundary best described in this Washington Post 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 separation was devised 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 St. Louis expanded, maps produced by realtors rated areas as A: Best, B: Still desirable, C: Definitely declining, and D: Hazardous. These ratings directly equated to the number of people of color in the vicinity. See Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the American City for in-depth maps. While this type of segregation was outlawed by the Fair Housing Act in 1968 — unsurprisingly created by a case from St. Louis which stemmed from yet another — realtors continue to engage in this practice.
White flight and continued racism kills the city’s economy
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. Light rail expansion is repeatedly rejected by the wealthier west county cities to keep people of color out of these areas, and bus routes have limited schedules for western routes. This transit opposition perpetuates poverty. Not because people of color are incapable of working skilled labor jobs, but because accessible, higher-paying businesses move further away. This removes both jobs and local tax income, and the lack of higher paying jobs makes purchasing vehicles difficult. St. Louis City had approved a $10 per hour minimum wage, but shortly after being enacted, the governor reversed it due to pressure of white-owned businesses, reverting minimum wage to $7.70 per hour. This substandard wage causes many people to scramble to make ends meet on two or three minimum wage jobs to support their family. In many households, this can create a latchkey kid situation. Latchkey leaves children home without parental supervision, which can contribute to juvenile crime. The poverty in St. Louis is self-perpetuating by the region’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 — aren’t supporting their prosperity with minimum wage jobs. However, transit into these areas is difficult. For example, bus service in upper-class white-flight Chesterfield ends around 10pm, and transit from south St. Louis City to Chesterfield takes one-and-a-half to two hours. A three-to-four-hour daily commute renders these jobs undesirable for most city residents who rely on transit.
A visitor to the area, Jordan Chariton from The Young Turks, was recently arrested during his reporting of the protests, and confined 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 the inspiration for this article.
A troubling trend
Racial Profiling Data for 2015
• 53,897 Total Stops
• 79% African-American
• 1% Asian, Hispanic, Latino, Other races
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 racial profiling, which is a reflection of the racism within the predominantly white St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, as further described by the E.O.S.P:
One such example of this cronyism is 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 while off-duty. Just over a year later, Flanery resigned following his arrest for leaving the scene of an accident after having crashed a police vehicle while drunk and high on cocaine. This incident occurred after having already failed an employee drug test by the SLMPD. Had they hired a qualified candidate over Flanery, 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 who, incidentally, redacted the minimum wage increase. Killer cops continue to be acquitted and put back on duty. Racist officers with multiple complaints continue to patrol the city. 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 hard-working citizens deserve much greater regard than what our city government provides, especially for our most oppressed and vulnerable residents. There’s a reason the Black Lives Matter movement started here. It’s unfortunate that this movement is still necessary, 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
Post originally published on rebz.tv