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Protests in St. Louis on third day after Stockley acquitted

St. Louis police use a technique called "kettling," in which exits are blocked in and people are arrested en masse on Sept. 17, 2017, at the corner of Washington Avenue and Tucker Boulevard. Dozens of protesters, residents, journalists and legal observers were caught in the group arrest as people protested for a third day after former police officer Jason Stockley was found not guilty in the 2011 fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith. 

The Philadelphia-based Plain View Project has performed a necessary service for St. Louis and other U.S. cities by tracking police officers’ Facebook postings and outing those who openly express their prejudices. It’s hardly surprising that racists are serving in St. Louis’ police force. Perhaps more surprising are the feeble expressions of shock by St. Louis officials about these latest revelations.

The Plain View Project identified 22 current and 21 former St. Louis officers who could be traced to offensive postings denigrating blacks and Muslims. Some postings applaud videos of cars ramming through groups of civil rights protesters, while others defend white supremacists.

The police department’s 60 to 70 sergeants will undergo sensitivity training starting next week, followed by gradual inclusion of the rest of the police force. Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards cited declining numbers of objectionable posts as evidence that tougher social media policies imposed by the city were yielding positive results.

Declining numbers of posts are not, however, an indication that racism is being eradicated. These officers’ presence on the force sends a disturbing message that their decisions to crack heads and make arrests might be motivated by something beyond a quest to serve and protect.

Clear warning signs have abounded for years, such as officers’ conduct during Black Lives Matter protests following a not-guilty verdict in the 2017 murder trial of former Officer Jason Stockley. A federal indictment last December cited several cops for engaging in predatory tactics that clearly violated citizens’ civil rights and targeted them for physical abuse.

While those actions weren’t overtly racist, the context — protests over the killing of a potentially unarmed black man by a white officer — should have alerted commanders that they had a problem on their hands. Then came Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner’s decision last year to create an exclusion list of specific officers whose reputations are so tarnished they cannot be brought into court as witnesses.

Belleville AM radio host Bob Romanik, himself an openly racist former police officer and felon, encourages area officers to call in to his morning talk show. Romanik uses the N-word constantly and advertises his station as “white-awareness radio.” St. Louis-area officers call in regularly to chat and offer their support for his program. Romanik greets them as “brothers in blue.” The Federal Communications Commission announced yesterday that the station’s license could be in jeopardy.

The First Amendment protects all citizens’ rights to express their views, no matter how hideous they might be. But police officers are bound by city rules restricting employees’ use of social media in ways that disparage people based on race, color, religion, sexual orientation and other factors.

Sensitivity training or not, these officers have no business earning a paycheck on the taxpayers’ dime. The sooner they’re gone, the safer our streets will be.