New York Times Kansas City-based reporter John Eligon took sides on anti-police protests in St. Louis in Saturday’s investigation, “Protests Disrupt Commerce in St. Louis, and Regional Leaders Take Notice.”
Anti-police protests in the area have resulted in broken windows, the mayor has been shouted down at a county hearing that descended into fisticuffs, and a lone supporter of the police was shouted at and had to leave another meeting under escort. You would have to read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for any of that inconvenient information, however. Instead, Eligon went to a Trump-hating pizzeria chain owner for the local angle:
Chris Sommers, who runs a chain of successful pizza restaurants here, has long supported both sides in the fierce standoff between police officers and black residents playing out in this city.
He donated to civil rights groups after the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., which is just 10 miles away. He also backed officers, giving them discounts at his pizzerias and supporting the mayoral candidate endorsed by the police union.
But Mr. Sommers chose sides about a month ago.
“I was an outspoken critic already of the criminalization of being black,” said Mr. Sommers, who is white. “It wasn’t as personal until the police tried to wreak havoc on me and my business. Unfortunately, it took that for me to get as angry as I need to be.”
Eligon made Pi Pizzeria owner Sommers the star of the article and let him harshly criticize the police without offering a challenge. But it’s on a Facebook post (reprinted by a local alternative paper) where Sommers really got riled up, accusing cops of “terrorizing [his] dinner guests” and overemphasizing the “peaceful protest,” as if not vandalizing private property every time out is some kind of praiseworthy accomplishment, while snarling at Trump supporters: “They all have Trump and ‘Make America Great Again’ tags in their profiles....It's disgusting, and it was critical to the election of Donald Trump.”
Sommers may not be the only one to have taken sides. Eligon made a Black Lives Matter! point on Twitter a few days beforehand, regarding an utterly unrelated story about the police capturing an escaped cow in Brooklyn: “Somehow the police were able to catch this cow without killing it. I wonder if ... nah, nevermind.”
Eligon’s story continued:
In the weeks since, a small but spirited group has taken to the streets of St. Louis and surrounding communities almost every night to protest police violence, inspired by the acquittal last month of Jason Stockley, a white former police officer, in the fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black.
(Smith was also a convicted drug dealer, a fact the reporter left out.)
While regional leaders say they are confident the area can thrive economically amid the demonstrations, protest leaders have gotten their attention. The protesters have largely won the public relations battle against the police -- who have made some embarrassing missteps in their handling of the demonstrations -- and have seized the media narrative, with the local press reporting on their complaints against particular officers and police tactics.
Of course, part of that “public relations battle” are fawning stories about the protesters, like this one.
With a focus on disrupting the city’s economy, the protests have forced the city to pay more than $3 million in police overtime and have led to lost revenue after a couple of major concerts were canceled. Demonstrations -- or even just the fear of them -- have prompted grocery stores and malls to temporarily close. And some wonder whether the unrest will harm the region’s bid to lure the new Amazon headquarters.
Protesting against the police in favor of a drug dealer may do that.
For as much as they have gotten Ms. Krewson’s attention, she has not heeded one of their loudest demands -- to immediately replace Chief O’Toole, who is white, with a chief they believe would work better with the community.
Does Eligon mean a black police chief? The wording is evasive.
Many of the changes they are asking for -- more robust civilian oversight, a more diverse department, bridging racial inequalities -- are fixes that will take time. And many familiar racial divisions remain: At a recent St. Louis County Council meeting over police pay raises, the pro-police crowd was largely white, applauding those who spoke in favor of officers but remaining silent when others advocated reforms.
Eligon had none of the usual reporter misgivings about angry people carrying military-style firearms.
“We haven’t seen any real, tangible, systemic change at all, from how the police are allowed to police us to how they’re allowed to engage with us during protests,” said Dhoruba Shakur, a 27-year-old black man, as he marched alongside a group of about 50 protesters on a recent evening with an AR-15 rifle slung over his shoulder. “But we’re not done.”
Eligon broadcast the protestors’ surefire strategy to win hearts and minds:
They focus on protests that cause economic disruption, often targeting white neighborhoods.
“We are bringing it to the doors of people who do not have to live this life and just giving that little bit of uncomfortableness,” said LaShell Eikerenkoetter, a protest leader who is black. “Now you understand what we as black folks feel and why we are out here.”
The demonstrations employ an element of surprise to throw off the police. They have attracted a diverse crowd and word is spread by live-streaming demonstrations online.
Eligon bragged that “Some of the activists’ biggest victories have come at the expense of the police” because of some dubious arrests made by (possibly overworked) officers. Some morale boosting by the police was assumed to have backfired.
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The police took on more criticism when video captured some officers stealing a protest chant: “Whose streets? Our streets.” Chief O’Toole only made things worse when he later declared that the police had “owned tonight.” And many were outraged at a photo that showed a suburban police officer with his hand around the throat of an elderly black woman during a demonstration in a shopping mall.
An “oh, by the way” intrusion of reality made it near the very end:
The episodes have eroded trust in a force already struggling to improve community relations in a city trying to rein in its high murder rate, residents said.
Indeed, the homicide rate has surged in St. Louis county the last two years. Perhaps those cops might be necessary after all?