- 4 min read
- Posted on 11.21.14
- Filed under
- Francis Slay
- Charlie Dooley
- St. Louis
- rules of engagement
Over the past 24 hours, two extraordinary speeches have happened. The County Executive and I wanted to address them. And to share, clearly, our thoughts as we draw closer to the St. Louis County grand jury's decision and any reaction to it.
Yesterday, United States Attorney General Eric Holder, whose Justice Department is currently investigating Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson and Ferguson police department practices, took the nearly unprecedented step of addressing this local judicial situation and police responses to it. His statement acknowledged that the vast majority of police officers across this country honorably defend their fellow citizens on a daily basis. They are dedicated to public safety. He said that the federal Justice Department had issued new guidelines to help federal, state, and local enforcement officers safeguard the Constitutional rights of protesters while maintaining public safety. And, he called on protesters to conduct themselves peacefully.
Also yesterday, Michael Brown, Sr., in a courageous new video that many of you have now seen, issued the same call as Attorney General Holder for peace and change. "No matter what the grand jury decides," he said, "I don't want my son's death to be in vain."
And, I'm here to tell you that it can't be. And, it won't be. For the past hundred days, Charlie and I - and our police commanders - have engaged in many conversations with community leaders and with some of the protest leaders about the days to come after the grand jury decision.
That is because we believe in would be imprudent not to plan for protests, regardless of the grand jury's decision.
We have been criticized by some for sitting down with the protest leaders. The protest's leaders have been criticized for sitting down with us. We did so because in similar situations in other cities, things ended up very, very badly. We do not want that for our region. This is our City, and we live here together.
With that in mind, our police commanders engaged with some protest leaders on rules of conduct. In person and on conference calls, the two sides have met five times to discuss them.
The police commanders - and Charlie and I -- agreed to most of the rules because they made sense, or, we already follow them. We did not agree to some of the proposed rules because those rules would have limited officers' ability to keep people and property safe.
The bottom line is that we have instructed our police officers to protect the protesters' Constitutional rights. We have directed them to use more active tactics only when necessary to keep people safe or to protect property.
If there are protests, we expect some of the protesters will be disruptive. They will likely try, as they did in October, to inconvenience people to make their point.
If protesters are not violent, police will not be aggressive. But, if some protesters turn violent or threatening, police will respond to keep everyone safe - including bystanders, the peaceful protesters, and police officers themselves.
When demonstrators are being civilly disobedient, they will, in most cases, be given a chance to adhere to the law before they are arrested. And then, if necessary, they will be arrested in a non violent manner.
Depending on the circumstances, we may allow them to occupy public space longer than normally tolerated. That will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Our departments will dress appropriately to protect themselves --not to intimidate peaceful protesters.
Police tactics will not change based on the words protesters use -- but their actions.
Our goal, our job, and our prayer, is that at the end of each day, everyone goes home safe- police, protesters, and people who are not involved; that there is no widespread damage to people's homes and businesses; and that we are in a position to begin to heal, to close the racial divide, and to make the changes needed to make St. Louis a more fair and just city for everyone.
Charlie and I both strongly support law enforcement. The vast majority of our City and County officers are well trained professionals who have done an incredible job during the protests, and even before that, keeping people safe and protecting people's rights. During "Ferguson October," police officers were the targets of a great deal of invective. Some protesters tried to bait City police officers into taking aggressive action. Not one of our officers took the bait. They showed tremendous restraint and professionalism. They showed the world that they are one of the best police departments in the country. I fully expect that they will do their jobs just as well this time.
It is important to remember that we are going to have to work together to make needed change to make St. Louis more fair, more just and more prosperous for everyone. I ask everyone - protesters and police officers and everyone else --to remember our underlying goal: to protect the demonstrators' constitutional rights and to keep everyone safe.
Sixty-five years ago, President Harry Truman said: Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.
St. Louis, City and region, is not - not - going to go down that path.