An Act to improve policing in the St. Louis region and revisiting an action that made a difference 52 years ago.
by Chuck Ramsay
Two events this week illuminated how groups seeking racial equality are moving forward and looking back at the same time.
The first, on Thursday evening (Aug. 27) at the First Unitarian Church in the Central West End, was a town hall meeting put on by the Don’t Shoot Coalition, a task force of over 55 activist organizations (see them HERE), who are meeting in St. Louis and throughout the State of Missouri to formulate new legislation that will become the Fair and Impartial Policing Act to submit to the Missouri Legislature this year.
The Don’t Shoot Coalition is using the town hall events to not only consider the aspects that should be included in the Act, but to also recruit witnesses who have suffered the excesses of aggressive and biased policing in the past. The very diverse group this past Thursday included African Americans from all parts of the region, white allies, and those with disabilities who have also experienced problems when stopped by police officers ill trained, unaware or unwilling to understand and deal with a person who could not communicate with them in a conventional manner. These instances included people who did not speak English well, were deaf, or another mitigating issue. In some cases, this confusion led to false arrest, rough handling of the driver or pedestrian by the police, or mistrust in law enforcement in general.
The goal of the new Act will be to develop laws that remove much of the bias exhibited by police today in their dealings with minorities and disabled individuals. It would create mechanisms for tracking police interactions with citizens (stops and arrests) and methods for using that data to spot trends where the police are over reaching and over aggressive towards minorities, or noticeably concentrating and profiling particular minorities.
Amy Hunter of the St. Louis YWCA shared her story of having "the conversation" with her sons and having to explain to them that they would be treated differently by the police and what they should do if ever stopped or confronted by a policeman. It was a story no parent should have to tell and a situation no parent should have to fear for their children ever.
The Act would also specify greater training regimen for police departments and hold hiring and training to a higher standard so quality of policing improves overall. Emphasis would also be placed on community policing with forces being more involved with the community they serve and more reflective of the population.
A return to Jefferson Bank...
The second event this week (Friday afternoon, August 28) was the 52nd annual assembly of the Jefferson Bank demonstrations at 2601 Market Street in downtown St. Louis. In 1963, Jefferson Bank had moved from a predominantly black neighborhood in St. Louis where they employed some African Americans. Those who lived nearby also could do their banking there.
Then Jefferson Bank moved. At the new location, the neighborhood no longer had a bank. And, Jefferson Bank no longer employed blacks, with few exceptions. That’s when Norman Seay, Percy Green II, Williams Clay, William Clay (then a City Alderman), and 15 others mounted a demonstration that became one of St. Louis’ largest acts of civil disobedience, a protest against bank hiring practices that many believed helped drive other civil rights protests in the region.
Seay and Green were there once again with many of today’s activists and labor leaders. Glenn Burleigh of Jobs with Justice was one of the speakers who noted that while Jefferson Bank once made concessions to hiring blacks in the 60s, today the bank has expanded with many more branches throughout St. Louis, but has created a donut hole in that their bank locations often surround black neighborhoods, but never exist in them. Lack of good banking in poorer neighborhoods create negative effects for many people by giving them less choice in borrowing money pushing them to high interest payday loan companies, expensive check cashing services and so forth.
So, while the Jefferson Bank protests made some progress, in many ways some things have not changed and that is why this group returns to Jefferson Bank every year around the end of August to remember and reinforce its message that equality is needed in banking loans and services, housing, employment opportunities and more.
Progress is being made. But often it happens painfully slow.
Don't Shoot Coalition's town hall meeting.
Photography by Chuck Ramsay
Jefferson Bank 52nd Annual Demonstration
Photography by Chuck Ramsay
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