After another night of looting, the union leader of the St. Louis County Police criticized the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s decision to respond to protests with a relaxed police presence.
“Even though they were very critical of the tactics used during the first four days, they are now using those same tactics once again,” Crocker said. “We have individuals who have been shot, officers who have been injured. People that have been assaulted and robbed.”
When some protestors began to break into businesses along West Florissant Avenue on Friday, others formed human chains outside, calling for peace.
After a tense standoff, state patrol eventually got stragglers to disperse in the early morning hours, firing at least one canister of tear gas.
“They are dealing with that small faction of individuals who are looking to capitalize on this opportunity,” Crocker said. He added that he believed the looters were the same small group that broke into businesses last week as well.
“Those people aren’t protestors. Those people are criminals.”
But the protests have also thrown bare deep-seated tensions between residents and St. Louis area police departments.
In Ferguson, the vast majority of the city police force is white: Three officers are African American, 47 are white, and three identify as Hispanic or Pacific Islander, according to the department. People of color are disproportionately likely to be stopped and searched by police in St. Louis and its surrounding county, according to records kept by the Attorney General.
“We can’t ride through certain jurisdictions. I know not to go to Ferguson, St. Ann, South County,” said one woman at a peace march Thursday. She declined to give her name, because she serves in the military.
“That’s what we have to deal with on a daily basis,” she said. “We need to talk about it, and people need to start understanding that that’s why we’re angry. No, we don’t agree with the looting. … that is such a small percent of the bigger picture.”
Thought leaders and protestors have called for a greater racial diversity of police officers: The St. Louis County Police force says it has made an effort to hire additional officers from diverse backgrounds in recent years, but only 13.2 percent of the force identifies as non-white.
Association president Gabe Crocker says the force has been working with researchers to determine ways to build trust among communities of color.
“If there are instances of this going on, and as someone in a leadership role, I want this type of activity to stop. That being said, just because someone is pulled over doesn’t mean there’s a racial motivation behind it,” Crocker said. “I don’t have those answers, but I hope someone does. I would certainly be willing to listen.”