Ferguson: Police, Politics, and Taking the Bait

On Monday, November 24th, 2014, a landmark case in Ferguson, MO was settled by the grand jury. Prosecuting Attorney, Robert McCulloch, delivered the news on a live international broadcast that Officer Darren Wilson would not be convicted for the shooting that killed 18-year-old black teenager, Michael Brown, on August 9th, 2014. The news was met with devastated responses from the Ferguson community and countless supporters worldwide.

Even though the case is over, the massive outcry against police associations with the public in Missouri suggests that the controversy is only just beginning.

On Sunday, November 30th, 2014, St. Louis, MO’s NFL team, the Rams, took to their home field for a game against the Oakland Raiders in an odd fashion. Five Rams players walked out onto the gridiron with their hands up, appearing to be surrendering, not celebrating. This gesture is called, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” which is a stance that has gained traction since Brown’s death, as it suggests that he had his hands up when he was gunned down. In essence, it is the universal symbol of support for Brown, showing up in protests in Ferguson and all over the Internet.

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St. Louis Rams take to the field in “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” display. Photo courtesy of Jeff Curry/USA Today

While many of Brown’s supporters applauded the Rams’ statement, there was an outrage from the St. Louis Police Officers Association. In a public statement, released November 30th, 2014, they condemned the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture as “tasteless” and “offensive,” and called for the players to be disciplined.

There was a series of communications between the St. Louis County Police Chief, Jon Belmar, and the chief operating officer of the St. Louis Rams, Kevin Demoff, following the players’ demonstration on Sunday night. Belmar informed his staff on Monday, December 1st, 2014 of his conversation with Demoff, stating that the official from the Rams had apologized for his team’s conduct.

However, it appears that there was a misunderstanding on Belmar’s part. The Rams released a statement later the same day, indicating that while they did express regret for the offense that the gesture may have caused, they did not apologize.

Furious with the Rams for their refusal to apologize, the St. Louis Police Officers Association took to Twitter later that night to vent their frustrations.

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“Apology: ‘expression of regret for not being able to do something.’
@kdemoff: I regretted any offense their officers may have taken.”

Regardless of whether or not Demoff’s actions truly constitute as an apology, the St. Louis Police Officers Association made a grave mistake: they took the bait. The image of police and law enforcement is already in serious turmoil, following the murder of Michael Brown. Protests against police brutality and calls to action for officers to be punished are in full swing and are only gaining momentum. Several stories detailing police brutality toward black people have made international headlines within the last month and will no doubt be putting police under much more scrutiny from the public eye from now on. Their principal concern right now should be ensuring that they are performing their civil duties in the full pursuit of justice and protection and working to rebuild their trust with those they protect.

Instead, they are complaining on Twitter because someone didn’t want to apologize for offending them.

Based on crime statistics for the city of St. Louis, more than 4,400 crimes have been reported to the FBI by St. Louis police since September of 2014 and the homicide rate has dramatically increased since last year. Yet, they’re still finding more important things to do than keeping their city safe.

Reminding all that the Rams players involved in the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” display were exercising their First Amendment rights, St. Louis police should really be more concerned with real crimes, rebuilding public trust, and repairing their broken image, as opposed to getting into arguments on social media. With this Twitter response, they only make themselves look petty, and by extent, further vilify themselves against the public.

This was exactly what skeptics of law enforcement wanted to see, and the St. Louis Police Officers Association played right into their hands. In this case, they should have taken the high road, refusing to respond, instead of taking the bait.

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