Last weekend, many people marked the five-year anniversary of the killing of teenager Michael Brown Jr. by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson.
That killing, of course, sparked months of protests and unrest costing the region many millions of dollars. It made the small suburban town of Ferguson a synonym around the world for racism and police brutality, and made St. Louis ground zero for a national call for police reform.
While many recognized the occasion by calling for peace, corporation and unity, one man, who has unfortunately been allowed for too long to be the face of policing in St. Louis, decided to pour salt on the wounds of a still-grieving family and community.
Jeff Roorda — a failed former police officer himself, who was fired by the city of Arnold in 2001 for filing false reports and lying about his bosses — this man, who does not live in the city of St. Louis and has never been a St. Louis police officer, has for some reason been hired and rehired over and over again by the St. Louis police union to be their spokesman.
And what did he have to say on this solemn day as we remembered one of the darkest times in recent St. Louis history?
He posted on Facebook the photo of a smiling Darren Wilson in his Ferguson police uniform with the message: “Happy Alive Day, Darren.”
Jeff Roorda is one of the reasons St. Louis police remain just as divided from the communities they serve and patrol today as they were five years ago.
While the Brown family remembered their child’s violent death, another family experienced the same thing. Seven-year-old Xavier Usanga was playing in front of his house on Monday about 5 p.m., just days before he was to start his new school year, when he and an 18-year-old were shot. Xavier died. He was the 11th child in our city to die by gunfire just since June.
As expected, the mayor said she was “sick and outraged.” Police leaders went on TV and pleaded for the public to come forward with information. They said they knew that people knew who shot and murdered these children. They said they were not getting the calls and tips they needed to find the murderers. They chastised “the community” for not knocking on doors themselves and finding out who committed these recent murders. They said they needed the community to “step up.”
Let me tell you something. As long as the St. Louis police department has a reputation for being one of the most violent police departments in the country, they will not have the support and cooperation of the community they chastised this week.
As long as the St. Louis police department allows a man like Jeff Roorda to be the public face of policing in St. Louis, they will never have the trust and relationships we need them to have in order to make this city safer.
And as long as the city’s public safety leadership, including Mayor Lyda Krewson, Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards, and police Chief John Hayden continue to prove either unwilling or incapable of holding their officers accountable for abuses and behavior, St. Louis will remain a place where the majority of murders go unsolved. Where every year 2,000 people are shot. A city known as one of the most dangerous cities in America. A place where every year more people move away from than move to.
Don’t accuse my community of not stepping up when you yourselves have not stepped up to clean your own house.
Don’t chastise others for not snitching when your own officers maintain the same no-snitching policy when it comes to lawbreakers and criminals within the department.
Five years after Ferguson, we all should understand by now that making our city safer requires — DEMANDS — that we improve this broken relationship between the police and the black community. That means that the police department and police officers have a major role in that. And it should start with getting rid of Jeff Roorda — or admitting that he does accurately reflect the attitudes of most city cops.
And if that’s true, God help us all.