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Government, Politics & Issues

2 weeks after Stockley verdict, St. Louis alderman asks board to honor police department

Protesters and small business owners march to City Hall to attend a Board of Alderman meeting a hold a press conference on Sept. 29, 2017.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Protesters and small business owners march to City Hall to attend a Board of Alderman meeting a hold a press conference on Friday.

St. Louis Alderman Joe Vaccaro on Friday asked his Board of Aldermen colleagues to honor the city’s police officers, one week after they did the same for a black man killed by a white former police officer in 2011.

Vaccaro, D-23rd Ward, introduced a resolution that thanks the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for working long hours to protect citizens and businesses during two weeks of protests since the Sept. 15 acquittal of Jason Stockley.

“The city does need to come together and we need to talk. I get it,” Vaccaro said. “But I also wanted people to understand that there is another side to the story, which is simply there are folks that worry about our kids that are out there working as police officers.”

Last week, the board unanimously approved a resolution that honored Anthony Lamar Smith, whom Stockley fatally shot after a car chase in 2011. But six aldermen, including Vaccaro, later withdrew their support.

One of Vaccaro’s sons is a city officer, and his daughter is a civilian employee with the department. The 23rd Ward, in southwest St. Louis, is home to a lot of families of officers.

Vaccaro acknowledged the timing of his resolution looks divisive, even as he called for unity.

“But if you read the resolution, it just honors the police for protecting people’s rights, and it also says, it acknowledges that people are frustrated and they’re out there,” Vaccaro said.

Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, D-21st Ward, has participated in many of those protests, and was behind the resolution to honor Smith. He said while he respects the police, he cannot vote to support them.

“In terms of creating unification in our communities and unification within a department that’s racially divided. we have to be serious and realistic about the issues we face. And this resolution doesn’t do that,” Collins-Muhammad said.

The resolution was referred to a committee for a hearing before it will be brought up for a vote before the full board.

Mayor Lyda Krewson did not immediately comment on Vaccaro’s resolution.  

State Rep. Bruce Franks answers reporter questions outside City Hall on Sept. 29, 2017.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
State Rep. Bruce Franks answers reporter questions outside City Hall on Friday.

There have been protests nearly every day since Sept. 15, when St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson found Stockley, a white former police officer, not guilty of first-degree murder. The vast majority of the protests have been peaceful, and the city faces three federal lawsuits over the way officers have responded to the demonstrations and how protesters are treated after being arrested. 

Before the board’s meeting, a group of protesters led by Democraticstate Rep. Bruce Franks marched down Market Street to City Hall, where they went to the third floor and walked quietly through the gallery. Afterwards, they blocked Tucker Boulevard between Clark Avenue and Market Street to hold a news conference.

The protesters said they won’t stop pushing for reforms.Franks said the message is simple: “Our end goal is for y’all to stop killing us. Period.”

Franks spoke alongside activists who, like him, began their work after former Ferguson officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown in 2014.

 “I fight for my grandson. I fight for your grandson,” Ferguson activist Melissa McKinnies said. “This is only the beginning.”

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