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Black Police Union Wants St. Louis County To Address Systemic Racism In The Police Force

"Our country is inundated with unfair criminal justice policies," said Sgt. Heather Taylor, president of the Ethical Society of Police.
Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
Ethical Society of Police President Heather Taylor, shown here at a 2018 press conference, addressed the media on June 22 to talk about the county's lack of union recognition and its officers' claims of racism.

Members of the Ethical Society of Police expressed frustration with St. Louis County on Monday for its lack of urgency to acknowledge the police union and the racial discrimination its Black officers face. 

The African American police union said it sent a memorandum of understanding to County Executive Sam Page more than a year ago to try to build an open relationship with county officials. Page signed the document Monday, which the union felt was long overdue.

“The way that it stands right now with police officers all around the country, we have to do better. We are trying to represent the very community that a lot of us are from,” said Sgt. Heather Taylor, president of the Ethical Society of Police. “We are trying to improve the lives of the people in our community and our police departments, but in order to do that, we have to have a voice.”

Even though Page has signed the MOU, the group is still calling for Police Chief Mary Barton and the county police board of commissioners to sign the document as well. 

A spokesperson for Page said his office put several items on hold during the pandemic, including consideration of the MOU. However, Page said he is willing to work with the union moving forward. 

The Ethical Society’s county board member, Shanette Hall, said the organization is willing to talk with Barton but only if the conversation turns into immediate action to address its grievances. 

“We are bringing the solutions from the perspective of an African American. We are asking for accountability; we are asking that everyone be heard," she said.

The society was founded in 1972 to tackle racial discrimination in area police departments. The group said it cannot fight for the rights of its officers without a seat at the table. 

Taylor said that Black officers are often challenged with discriminatory hiring practices, lack of diversity in specialized units and inequitable promotions. Along with asking for systemic racism to be addressed, society members want mandatory cultural competency and implicit and explicit bias training for every city and county police department. 

“The issue always comes back to us with systemic racism,” Taylor said. “We are trying to eliminate policies and practices. And old ways and old practices are coming back to hurt us mostly as minorities.” 

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Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.