It’s Not About You, St. Louis P.D.
Earlier this week during Sunday night football, five St. Louis Rams players came out of the tunnel to take the field ahead of the rest of the team, arms raised in “hands up, don’t shoot” posture, in honor of the Ferguson protesters angry with the lack of indictment of Officer Darren Wilson, four months after his shooting of Mike Brown. The gesture was powerful, especially coming from influential athletes from the St. Louis community. And what did they get in return? A whole bunch of belly aching from the St. Louis Police Department, who demanded an apology, rightfully didn’t get one, and then still chose to pretend they did. What a world!
This is idiotic. This is not about the St. Louis Police Department and their hurt feelings, which is exactly what they’re making it out to be. Take one look at the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, watch the video of 12-year-old Tamir Rice being shot by a police officer just one week ago, take some time to marvel at the fact that Trayvon Martin died less than two years ago, even though it feels a lifetime away, all because he wanted to eat some candy, and you’ll see that these incidents aren’t isolated. The nationwide protests over the Wilson grand jury decison are proof positive that the outrage isn’t just limited to Ferguson. When the Rams took the field with their arms raised, the goal wasn’t to indict local law enforcement – it was to honor those who were lost far too soon, and far too unnecessarily.
The St. Louis Police Officers Association got many things wrong when they released their novel of a statement condemning the actions of the Rams players and demanding that disciplinary action be taken against the players. Namely, in the second paragraph, where they wrote:
“The gesture has become synonymous with assertions that Michael Brown was innocent of any wrongdoing and attempting to surrender peacefully when Wilson, according to some now-discredited witnesses, gunned him down in cold blood.”
No, SLPOA. Protesters with their hands up aren’t saying that Brown was an angel, free of any wrong-doing. They’re saying that Brown deserved the same due process of the law that doesn’t call for shooting an unarmed teenager seven times because he was jaywalking or seemed to fit a description of someone who stole a box of cigarillos. They’re asking to not be shot at when they don’t present any sort of credible threat.
And really, what was the SLPOA hoping to achieve by asking – nay, demanding – an apology and disciplinary action? Take a look at the fact that the protests over the Darren Wilson grand jury have spread nationwide, and it’s clear that this isn’t an isolated incident limited to the bounds of Ferguson and its surrounding cities. Attempting to police the behavior of the Rams players and demanding disciplinary action (a request which the Rams organization swiftly ignored) would accomplish absolutely nothing, other than further deepening a divide between a growing majority that’s distrustful of police, and adding to even more horrible press for a police department that’s still under federal investigation for trampling all over civil liberties.
Moreover, it’s hypocrisy. Officers in Ferguson were photographed earlier this fall wearing bracelets that read “I AM DARREN WILSON” while on duty at protests in Ferguson, until the Department of Justice intervened and banned the bracelets from being worn while officers were on duty. (As always, off duty officers may wear whatever they so please, because America is theoretically still the land of the free.) Putting aside the obvious arguments of free speech as protected by the First Amendment, the Rams players were representing their own personal views, disheartened and outraged by the death of an unarmed fellow St. Louis citizen.
When Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Stedman Bailey and Jared Cook took the field with their arms up, it wasn’t to ruffle feathers and further politicize an incident that doesn’t need more politicizing. It was to honor the life of Mike Brown, to pay respect to the thousands of protesters both in Ferguson and nationwide who are fighting for the status quo to change, and above all, to voice their own feelings: as black men, as St. Louis residents, as humans. For the SLPOA to demand disciplinary actions against them for doing so isn’t going to help end the unrest – it’s just another thinly veiled attempt at silencing black voices, silencing dissent, and ending any attempts to make things better.