Police supporters rally in St. Louis, call for fewer restrictions on law enforcement
Almost 100 people gathered outside the headquarters of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Saturday for a rally in support of law enforcement.
Those in attendance said police officers had been “handcuffed” from doing their job in recent months and are required to give Ferguson-related protesters too much leeway.
Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder kicked off the rally with a speech.
“I have attended funerals and memorial services and wakes for both white officers and black officers killed in the line of duty in this city and the greater St. Louis region,” Kinder said. “I don’t want to attend anymore. This is a cause that knows no color. All law-abiding citizens should unite behind the support of our heroic peace officers and our first responders.”
Referring to a news conference held by Ferguson business owners two weeks ago, Kinder said, he thought most St. Louisans agreed with them.
"They were saying we've had seven months of these protests. Give it a rest so that the police don't have to close the street and our customers can get to us and trade with us and do business with us. Let us have peace in our community again," Kinder said.
Kinder added that he knows that most Missourians are tired of the protests, too.
“We want our police to know that despite all the negativity that they’re getting that most citizens out there — we support them. We love them,” rally organizer Leisa LaBelle said. “We got tired of (police officers) basically getting beat up every day and their bosses all the way up to the federal level are not allowing these officers to do their job.”
LaBelle said protesters have been allowed to break the law without consequence and that in turn has led to an increase in violence in the region.
“People are just running rampant. Criminals who are sitting in their homes watching other criminals get by with not following the law are like ‘Huh. They get by with it. Why can’t I?’ And they get out and they commit crimes and our crime rate is just through the roof right now,” Labelle said.
“We are so angry,” she added. “We are demanding that our governor on up allow our officers to do their job. This isn’t just about police. This is about public safety.”
LaBelle said some of the crimes that protesters shouldn’t get away with include blocking traffic and impeding the movements of police by surrounding them and shouting. While she agreed that St. Louis has a history of violent crime that predates last August, she believes it has gotten worse because of Ferguson-related protests.
“It’s definitely gone up since the protests,” she said. “Can we at least get back to where we were?”
That sentiment was echoed by former paramedic Becky Hutt, who said police have “gotten a really bad rap” and she wanted to show law enforcement that “there’s a lot of people that do care about them and are trying to change the way (police) have been handcuffed from taking care of all the problems.”
Police “are not allowed to interfere with people who are breaking the law,” Hutt added. “They’re stopping commerce from occurring. You can’t even walk down a sidewalk, walk down the street.”
Hutt, who grew up in Ferguson, said the recent attack on an African-American police officer in Ferguson was “a crying shame” but that she could see why people were protesting “a little bit.”
Rally-goers say police aren’t racially-biased
Labelle said that she thought the U.S. Department of Justice report outlining a pattern of racial bias in the Ferguson Police Department was “absolutely asinine.”
“I wish there were attorneys that would stand up and take on this case and put them in their place and let them know how ridiculous their numbers are because they did not go off of the residents who drive through Ferguson. They just went off the residents of Ferguson themselves,” she added.
A graph included in the Department of Justice Ferguson report compares the ratio of African Americans living in Ferguson to how often blacks were stopped and arrested in the city between 2012 and 2014. It found that African Americans made up 67 percent of Ferguson’s population while 85 percent of those stopped and 93 of those arrested were African American.
While the comparison isn’t strictly apples to apples, it still points to an apparent disparity.
LaBelle’s opinion about the DOJ report was echoed by St. Louisan Joe Weissmann, who said officers arrested people for breaking the law, not because of their race.
“You know when you look at the numbers, there’s a lot more African Americans in that area. So to me mathematically it’s just more likely that they’re going to get pulled over,” Weissmann said.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.