St. Louis Police’s Chants of ‘Whose Streets? Our Streets!’ Once Again Reveal the Warped Mindset Infecting Too Many Departments

The antagonistic “us versus them” culture that plagues many police departments with regard to their interactions with communities of color was on full, disturbing display this week in St. Louis. In response to protests by community members over the acquittal of police officer Jason Stockley in the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith, a group of St. Louis police officers provocatively chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets!”

That’s right — in one of the nation’s most racially segregated cities, where zip codes separated by only a few miles can mean an 18-year difference in life expectancy — a police department entrusted to serve the community aggressively claimed ownership over public streets while mocking protestors expressing the community’s pain and frustration. They did so by co-opting a chant that emanated from the very communities of color long marginalized and victimized by this country’s criminal, economic, and political systems. And adding insult to injury, they did so less than a 10-minute drive from where Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson.

Make no mistake, the police were sending a clear and chilling message to communities of color in St. Louis: We do not care about your pain and frustration. We do not care about the complicity of law enforcement in past and present harms to communities of color. We do not care about your outrage at a white police officer who said he was “going to kill this motherfucker,” before shooting Anthony Smith five times, and then allegedly planting a gun in Smith’s car. And this message is being delivered by not just any police department, but the deadliest police force in the United States. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department kills its residents at a higher rate than any police department among the nation’s 100 most populous cities.

By shouting a claim of ownership over the city’s streets, St. Louis police again wasted an opportunity to build bridges with aggrieved communities and to see themselves as part or extensions of those communities. Instead they dug an even deeper trench between themselves and those gathered to express their collective frustration, anger, and sadness — people of color, peace activists, parishioners alike.

More disheartening, perhaps, is that, in a certain sense, the police are right: In many cities, the streets are theirs.

Police saturate Black and brown neighborhoods with aggressive patrols; carry high-powered weapons and equip themselves with wide-sweeping surveillance technologies; stop, search, and arrest Black people at wildly disproportionate rates; treat the Constitution not as a legal mandate but, at best, as a series of suggestions that can be ignored when inconvenient; and often act with impunity, unchecked by any meaningful external or even internal accountability.

Make no mistake, the police were sending a clear and chilling message to communities of color in St. Louis: We do not care about your pain and frustration.

Further, Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice, rather than demanding progressive reform of harmful police practices, has exacerbated the national crisis over police-community relations by pulling back on federal oversight of police departments engaged in unconstitutional conduct, including repurposing the Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services program to facilitate more aggressive policing instead of prioritizing community relations. For his part, President Trump has deregulated the flow of military equipment to local police departments, only increasing the chances that police departments around the country will escalate tensions between themselves and the people, just as they did in Ferguson three years ago.

We should be in a better place by now. But nothing of gravity has changed if three years after the killing of Michael Brown and over one thousand other Black people nationally, St. Louis police officers think it is appropriate to proclaim ownership over public streets from the very community whose blood has been shed on those streets. Little has changed if the city’s police are still covering up their identification tags to avoid accountability for their anticipated unconstitutional, unlawful, potentially violent behavior.

Even after all we’ve been through in this country, the police are still corralling demonstrators into a small area like cattle and then arresting people en masse without probable cause. And yet, in response to these outrages, the police chief, the governor, and the state attorney general stand by in either silence or equivocation. Maddeningly, we have not yet seen the leadership necessary to achieve criminal justice reforms that are essential to protecting our cities and their residents.

The ACLU of Missouri called upon the mayor of St. Louis to condemn in the strongest terms the instigating, shameful chants of the city’s police department and to make clear that the police are here to serve the public, not themselves. Mayor Krewson responded, calling the chanting unprofessional. But it is worse than that. It is but one symptom of the corrosive and antagonizing culture that permeates too many police departments in this country. And it requires much more radical, profound solutions than light reprimands to eradicate.

Police departments must embrace de-escalation as a guiding principle; seek reconciliation with communities that they have harmed, a “process [which] recognizes the very real American history of abusive law enforcement practices toward minority communities, beginning with slavery;” support newer, stronger civilian complaint review boards that have meaningful investigative and disciplinary authority; end the selective and overenforcement of low-level offenses in communities of color, much of which is driven by a profit motive. Further, lawyers and judges need to reform a current legal standard that is remarkably permissive regarding when the police can use deadly force, resulting in “lawful but awful” shootings. Until then, police departments need to rise above the constitutional floor and establish more restrictive use-of-force policies.

The streets do not belong to the police. They belong to the community. The time for police reform is long past due. We cannot afford to wait any longer.

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Gilbert Henry

People of St. Louis arm yourselves don't be mistreated by anyone. That includes the police.

Anonymous

Just on a hunch I looked up the ACLU since it seems the press are always saying that the ACLU had been called in to investigate and was so surprised..they are so anti white it is pathetic.http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=95942&page=1 They don't take into account all the criminal activities being done in the black communities and why the police are so ready to shoot..the police motto should be Shoot before the criminal shoots you!. They risk their lives everyday trying to protect the blacks from each other..and get shot trying to do so..they have to feel the pain in their heart when a call comes in that one of the blacks have shot a black baby or young child..they have to get the call when a black house is shot up from drive by's and several in the house are shot. There are no protesters there when this happens..there are no street blocking's when a young black child gets shot during a drive by by a gang of blacks or a child gets a hold on their black relatives gun because the owner just leaves it laying around in case they need it suddenly against other black criminals..and shoots it and kills someone accidently ..for the life of me I can not understand why so many blacks have hatred for the police..their only hope for any peace in their communities.. All the ACLU seems to be doing is stirring them up to riot. Why can't they advocate a peaceful protest instead of a hurtful one where they want to destroy everything in their way? Police aren't just "Killing" these criminals they criminals are also dangerous..face it or not.the blacks are the ones killing the other blacks.. I see what is going on in Ferguson and long before the Michael Brown incident where he robbed the store and then bullied the cashier/owner.they were shooting in that area..it was a normal day to day thing that goes way back. it was also proven the hands up thing was a lie..look how many lies are being told and the blacks are believing it still to this day . Even tho they have been proven to be a lie. Read about the annexing of the area into Ferguson..All hell broke loose in the area after that. It had once been a older settled quiet community..I think blacks have the same opinion as Puerto Rico.."President Donald Trump went after local officials in Puerto Rico, accusing them of wanting “everything to be done for them,” They want instant gratification and they want to sit on their butts while everyone else fixes their problems..well it's time for them to stop acting like they were slaves and get over it..get a job and stop partying in the streets till all hours of the night and destroying everyone else's right to peace and quiet and destroying what others have acquired through hard work..I also see a few comments about the fines..maybe the higher fines are because the blacks stick their tongues out and laugh when they get tickets..they will never even attempt to pay them..they have no respect for the law and will not obey them..they should get a triple fine for their attitude alone. Most of the blacks in the MB area drive without a license and without insurance and don't care at all..when they run into you they usually have a fake ID and give a fake name and address and a fake insurance company.. And usually a stolen license plate or they share one plate with a relative and act like one was lost but never report it. They know all the tricks and how to hide from the cops..no wonder they aren't trusted . And yet the cops are being made out to be the bad guys..well all I can say is that the ones doing that are the real bad guys..making the cops look like the bad guys gets them off the hook for a while..and of course they try to use the race card so many times it is becoming like the story about the little boy that cried wolf..they too will do it one too many times..it's getting old.

Anonymous

I have no respect for the ACLU or their opinions....
http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=95942&page=1

Anonymous

You fucking white folks are pathetic if the shoe was on the other foot you wouldn't be saying all this racist shit. I've seen on video a white cop telling a white women they only kill black people,and another video of a man lying on the ground with his hands up and get shot oh and another of a officer asking the man for his ID and when he went to get if he was shit dead. It looks like a civil or race war is brewing,I'm tired of white folks shit and many other people are too. You assholes are the real niggers of this fucked up country and you mutha fuckers will burn in he'll with the rest of the racist bastards. So just for clarification it's more white niggers in this fucked up society than any fucking body else you no good racist dog smelling animals y'all ass will rot in hell

Anonymous

I think its great that the L.E.O. chanted its there streets cause it is just as its the citizens. people often forget that the people who perform the job also lives in those areas and to let people domestic or foreign tear shit up is not right. so yeah good job protecting those businesses and those streets officers. and people are stupid; how are you mad at a mayor that was not even in office and a city that did not have control of a police department when the incident occurred. the average american citizen is an idiot . what people should be mad about it a negligent prosecuting attorney that did not know to produce charges that could stick. but instead trying to please a stupid public that knows nothing of the law. and no the law should not change cause if it did it would be hell to pay for the public at the hands of those that like chaos. think stupid people think.

Anonymous

Mayors, City Councils and the Chief of Police need to meet with the community leaders and tha ACLU , NAACP, representatives and Senators from Missouri need to end the killing and this madness of having Police Shootings disregarding people's lives!!

Blake L Hayner

Militarization of police departments began in the 1980s based on the Fantasy T.V. Series S.W.A.T, Today's law enforcement agencies consistently reinforce these fantasies in the video gaming industry and the war reenactments using toy guns that ap

Anonymous

They're sending a clear message, watch st. Louis send a clear message

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Anonymous

You can protest 24/7, but you can't block streets, loot and vandalize. And public places are to be shared by everyone. The Police chants are a reference that you the violent protestors do
no own public places. They were also saying we will not have
a repeat of Ferguson.

If you act like a thug, then everyone will consider you a thug.

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