Citizens who stepped up to the podium on Tuesday evening at St. Louis City Hall expressed a mixture of approval, hope and disappointment about the nominees to a civilian oversight board that will review complaints against police officers.
Mayor Francis Slay nominated the board members, one from each of seven city districts. But the Board of Aldermen must approve those named.
The Board of Aldermen voted to create a civilian oversight board in the wake of the Ferguson unrest.
“I believe you have supreme candidates here,” said Teri Powers, a social worker and the night’s first speaker.
But as was the case with many others throughout the evening, Powers followed her compliment with a caveat.
Powers said many who have encounters with police are suffering from mental illness, yet “the police act like they’re wanton criminals.” Powers said she was disappointed that not one of the nominees had any training in mental health.
Jerryl Christmas, an attorney who represents the family of VonDerrit Myers Jr. and other black youths shot by police, called the civilian oversight board “a good first step.”
“But it’s a small step,” Christmas continued. Like others, he said he had concerns about the board’s lack of subpoena power and inability to conduct independent investigations.
Christmas also called on the civilian oversight board to demand that St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson step down.
“The chief has lost control of the city. It’s time to move in a new direction,” he said.
Shirlissa Pruitt, another speaker, echoed Christmas’ concerns. “If it’s all for show and not for change then we are still going to be in the same position,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Dinah Tatman of Greater New Vision Ministries was one of the few to raise concerns about a specific nominee: DeBorah Ahmed, executive director of Better Family Life. Tatman argued that Ahmed has a conflict of interest because the organization she directs receives money from the city.
Another nominee several members of the public raised concerns about was Bradley T. Arteaga, who serves on the board of a police officers businessmen association. That board provides officers with tools such as bicycles and flash lights.
Arteaga, for his part, said he volunteered to resign from that association and that he looks forward to giving back to the city.
“I think it’s going to make a difference,” Arteaga said.
The meeting was convened by the Public Safety Committee of the Board of Aldermen, which will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday to consider confirming candidates. That meeting is also open to the public.
Nominees will ultimately need the full Board of Aldermen’s approval.