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Don’t undo the People’s victory!

The Way I See It-Jamala Rogers
Posted St. Louis American-April 23, 2015

My cell phone was blowing up as I sat in the alder chambers patiently waiting for all the debate to end on the bill to establish a civilian oversight board. I was getting texts from people both in the gallery and those watching the proceedings on STL TV.

They were mostly responding to Alderwoman Sharon Tyus’ section-by-section critique of the bill and questioning why she had not raised her concerns prior to the last day of the session and the final vote on the bill.

St. Louis politics are predictable. For example, the votes on Board Bill 208 basically fell along racial lines. That’s how St. Louis has been rolling, and fair-minded people of all kinds are sick of it. And we’re doing something about it.

Alders Christine Ingrassia and Scott Ogilvie stood down on their own bill. A long-time political observer stated that for a sponsoring alderperson not to vote yes on his or her bill may be unprecedented. We’re sure to see worse jaw-dropping actions in the future.

It is a known fact that the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression (CAPCR)  has given leadership to this movement since its inception in 1983. The first bill for civilian oversight was introduced by Alderman Terry Kennedy and passed in 2006; it was vetoed by Mayor Francis Slay. For nearly a decade, there was plenty of opportunity for all to work on the next version of the bill to make it even stronger than Board Bill 69.

Those of us in the trenches are not politically naive, nor are we mindless bobble-heads, as alluded to by members of the Board of Alderpeople who said we haven’t done the research for civilian oversight. We know what quality policing looks like, and we know what forces are prepared to stop us from getting it.

Regardless of how weak its detractors say it is, BB 208 is a blow against the racist power structure in St. Louis. Local control of the police and the civilian oversight board are part of a decades-long struggle by citizens for accountability and due process for residents who have been victimized by the St. Louis Police. St. Louis residents have been unequivocally clear about policing, whether it was the vote on residency, the vote for local control in 2013, or the vote for a civilian review board.

CAPCR’s campaign has always been fueled by citizen participation. For the alders who said the bill gave the mayor too much power, I didn’t see them leading the charge against any of the mayor’s three re-election bids. For the alders who say the bill doesn’t have subpoena power, we expect them to lead the charge in the next aldermanic session for the companion bill to give the civilian oversight board that power.

A cautionary note: Just because the civilian oversight bill passed this week won’t mean the naysayers and saboteurs will fall back and join the implementation campaign. We expect them to re-double their demolition tactics. The St. Louis Police Officers Association and Mayor Slay are not seen as allies, but obstructionists whose actions will be exposed in the coming months as the battle for real local control continues.

The Department of Justice completed its investigation of the Ferguson Police Department and presented its scathing findings. The DOJ also knows there has been a stench coming from 1200 Clark for years. Just because the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department moved to a new building doesn’t mean the odor didn’t follow it.

Real local control and an effective civilian oversight board are not air fresheners to conceal the smell. There has been an organized effort to get to the root of the stink. We see this as an opening to a full democratic process that will allow citizens to participate in the transformation of one of the most corrupt systems of government. And that sounds like a journey worth taking.

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