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Clayton officials meet with Wash U students, say city will conduct racial sensitivity training

The City of Clayton has apologized to the 10 black Washington University students involved in the July 7 incident.
File Photo | Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated July 20 at 4:15 p.m. - STLPR journalists Holly Edgell and Chad Davis joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh to provide context and analysis about this story.

Original story from 7/19:

Clayton City Manager Craig Owens, Clayton Police Chief Kevin R. Murphy, and other officials met with several black students who were falsely accused of “dining and dashing” at an IHOP in Clayton.

Owens said the meeting was “emotionally powerful.”

“In hindsight, it is clear to us that we mishandled the interaction with these 10 Washington University students and lacked sensitivity about their everyday reality,” he said in a statement.

The department is promising to continue its investigation detailing the events of July 7 when 10 black students were accused of eating at the IHOP and not paying. The students were walking from the restaurant to the Richmond Heights Metrolink station near the Galleria when they were stopped by police. In some accounts, the students were forced to walk back to the restaurant after showing their receipts. Officers said a few students offered to walk back to show they were not the suspects. The group was followed by several police vehicles.

When the group arrived, the manager of the IHOP told the officers that the individuals were not the suspects. The officers then dismissed the students.

“As soon as we got to the IHOP, the manager, he looked disgusted,” Teddy Washington, one of the 10 students said in an interview with CNN about the incident. “As soon as he looked at the group of ten of us he said ‘yeah, you definitely have the wrong group.’”

Owens said in a statement that this incident is an opportunity for the city to do better.

“We left (the meeting) with a much better understanding of how the students were feeling the night of July 7 and what it is like to be a young African-American who is confronted by the police,” Owens said.

Wash U student Teddy Washington told CNN that an investigation into the matter was underway before the university contacted the police department.

A separate meeting was held Wednesday between university faculty, the Ethical Society of Police and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. State Rep. Stacey Newman, St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones and the parents of one of the students also attended. The discussion centered around ways to strengthen racial equity.

“We have an obligation and also the skills, in terms of we’re researchers, to help Washington University become a stronger voice and a stronger force in changing this region’s historical racism,” said Shanti Parikh, an associate professor of Sociocultural Anthropology and African and African-American Studies at Wash U. Parikh is also a member of the Friends of KWMU Community Advistory Board.

Parikh’s husband, Jason Wilson, was stopped by the Clayton police twice this year while canvassing for a school board position after residents accused him of soliciting.

The meeting was held after the City of Clayton released it’s initial statement on the issue, which apologized to students for this being their first interaction with the city.

“The city called them collateral damage,” Parikh said. “As a black mother of two black sons and having a black husband, that collateral damage is something they have to live with.”

We will close by just sharing how extremely impressed we are by these Washington University students. We are grateful that they have been willing to share their experience and their perspective. They came to Washington University to change the world and they have already done so. — Craig Owens, Clayton city manager

Urban League Vice President of Civil Rights and Advocacy, Redditt Hudson was also present at the meeting.

“Often it’s pedestrian stops that lead to the kinds of encounters that we see go wrong over the years,” Hudson said.

The city of Clayton asked that the police department finish its investigation as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. The department will also conduct more training on racial sensitivity and will provide body cameras for officers later this year.

Follow Chad On Twitter @iamcdavis

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Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.