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The hostile takeover by the state

The attempt to seize local control from the citizens of St. Louis will be met with organized—and might I add–hostile resistance (think pension, think future raises). That’s because citizens voted for local control of their police department in 2013 by a majority of citizens. That historic vote was the result of more than a decade of tireless organizing under the leadership of the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression (CAPCR).

The vote turned back the clock of 150 years of state oversight dating back to the Civil War. Though Missouri had troops on both sides of the Civil War, it was an official part of the confederacy. So it’s no mystery when white people in power act like St. Louis is a plantation, incapable of self-governance.

True to those confederate tendencies, the Missouri House of Representatives recently voted to snub its noses at a democratic process that honored voter wishes by putting the St. Louis Police Department under state control. It smacks of the GOP-driven agenda to make America white again or at least white-controlled again.

The bill contains such provisions as the need to maintain a police force of not less than 1,313 members. St. Louis is already high on the national list of cities with more police per capita for cities of our size. With the diminishing population of the city, this is tantamount to an occupying force. In Black neighborhoods, this will only deepen the tensions in a relationship marred by police brutality and police criminality with little or no impunity.

The bill also includes establishment of a board of police commissioners with punishment for any city official, including Mayor Tishaura Jones, to interfere with the board’s authority. However “interference” is loosely defined, officials could be fined $1000 and be banned from holding office.

Let’s do a brief recap of life under state control with a fully staffed police department. Corruption was rampant and went all the way to the top. Crime and violence was high. Responses by the police to citizen calls were problematic, and there were chronic complaints of no-shows. Police assaults and murders of citizens were off the charts.

The perverted relationship between the police department and the prosecutor’s office led to many wrongful convictions with the most recent example being that of Lamar Johnson. Johnson was released last year after being robbed of nearly 30 years of his life.

There were reported thefts of money and property by citizens such as the Cardinal’s World Series tickets. The towing scandal prompted a federal investigation and led to the resignation of Police Chief Mokwa.

All this and more was going on with a ballooning department budget. The list of immoral, unethical and illegal behaviors by police rarely received the appropriate attention or resolution. The behaviors were mostly justified adding to an environment that makes it difficult to attract police recruits, especially Black ones. It made the case for local control easier because citizens saw clearly that what we had was absolutely not working for them.

Proponents of the hostile takeover should understand that they can’t take back the components they want and leave the city with others. For example, If they want to control the police department,  they need to assume its budget which accounts for about a third of the city’s $1.3 billion budget. No one in their sane mind gives up that kind of authority while still paying all the bills.

Overall violence is up in this country. Some of this can be linked directly to Republican policies and laws like the refusal to pass common-sense gun laws. Like playing on people’s fears to create a false narrative about public safety which almost always criminalizes African Americans.

CAPCR not only changed the trajectory of police oversight, but it also launched a campaign to re-imagine public safety. Many others joined the campaign which centered community participation, not just adding more police to the equation.

Mayor Jones, community groups, faith organizations and others have worked separately and together to address the root causes of crime and violence. The systemic issue of violence will never be solved by more police or more punitive measures. That strategy has proven to be bankrupt and ineffective.

The collective efforts of those with a new vision of public safety are making a demonstrable difference. There has been a marked reduction in crimes such as murder, sexual assault and robbery. Juvenile crime is down. The homicide rate is the lowest in decades.

Our coalition of the committed prefers to keep working on our public safety plan. However, if we have to divert our energies to address the racist takeover, we will. Ours is a righteous mission for citizen participation and empowerment to determine the safety and security of our communities. We know the white politicians in Jefferson City have no understanding of our reality and no interest in our futures. We are bootin’ up for a victory.

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