ST. LOUIS — Protests over the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in suburban St. Louis migrated to the city Tuesday as demonstrators pressed for broad reforms to local and federal law enforcement – including the revival of a proposed civilian police oversight board.
About 100 protesters marched from City Hall to the downtown federal courthouse several blocks away to call attention not only to Brown’s death on Aug. 9 but also the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Kajieme Powell by St. Louis police 10 days later. Police have said Powell threatened two officers with a steak knife after stealing two energy drinks and a bag of doughnuts from a convenience store.
The demonstrators organized under the banner of Hands Up United, a broad movement forged from witness accounts that Brown, who was unarmed, had his hands in the air when he was shot six times by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson. Dozens of similar protests were planned across the country Tuesday, with several more in European cities. No arrests were reported in St. Louis.
The St. Louis police force is among many local departments summoned to support the Missouri Highway Patrol’s crowd control efforts in the north St. Louis County community.
Protesters called for the creation of a civilian review board to monitor St. Louis police shootings and other uses of force, renewing an effort that won the support of the elected Board of Aldermen eight years ago but was vetoed by Mayor Francis Slay.
“We’re drawing a line from Ferguson to right here where we live,” said Taurean Russell, who was arrested by county police at one of the nightly protests that occurred for nearly two weeks after Brown’s death.
A new proposal is expected to be presented by at least one member of the 28-person board when it returns from summer recess in September.
Quasi-judicial, civilian police review boards are common in large cities – but their oversight powers are often heavily criticized by those who have served on the boards, citing an absence of real power and a lack of cooperation by those whom they’re supposed to monitor.
In North Carolina, the Charlotte Observer found in 2013 that the city’s police review board sided with officers in each of the 78 cases of alleged misconduct it reviewed over 15 years and held just four hearings in those cases. In New Mexico, three of the Albuquerque Police Oversight Commission’s six members resigned in April after a U.S. Justice Department investigation that identified a culture of abuse and aggression in a police department that had killed 23 men since 2010.
In St. Louis, the city’s police union opposed the 2006 bill and is also lining up against the newer effort. Jeff Roorda, the union’s business manager and a Democratic state legislator from Jefferson County, told The Washington Post that a “handful of militant, anti-police aldermen” are seeking to “capitalize on this tragedy to advance their own political agenda.”
Mayoral spokeswoman Maggie Crane said Tuesday that Slay supports the idea of a civilian review board but rejected the 2006 measure over details he considered anti-police.
“Of course, things are different now, post-Ferguson, but these were all in the works,” she said, referring to negotiations between review board supporters and city leaders. “It’s not like things are being thrown together.”