The St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners has two new members following the Nov. 5 County Council meeting.
Both William Ray Price Jr. and Michelle Schwerin were approved unanimously by the council after being nominated last Friday [Nov. 1] by County Executive Sam Page. But these new additions to the board that provides oversight to the County Police Department did little to calm the frustration of many who spoke during public comments at the Nov. 5 meeting.
“The accountability on police officers is zero,” Rev. Phillip Duvall told the council. “So, when you hear us ask certain questions, you’re hearing us saying we feel like you are tone deaf. I don’t know how many more examples we have to give before we take to the streets.”
Duvall is a long-time Baptist minister and justice advocate who is the chair of the County’s Justice Services Advisory Board. That board was formed earlier this year, in large part, due to pressure by Duvall and others for change and transparency. Now, Duvall is once again lending his voice to a growing chorus of residents, many of whom are African American, who are demanding change within the County Police Department.
In his remarks on Nov. 5, Page pledged that more change would be coming and affirmed his commitment to a more diverse police force.
“Police department leadership must reflect our community … It must be diverse. It must be inclusive. It must understand that we all walk different paths and we have different struggles,” Page said.
But more promises from Page did little to pacify the angry crowd. Several times during the public participation section of the meeting, chants for the firing of Chief Jon Belmar were initiated. Even as the council’s presiding officer, Ernie Trakas [R-District 6], hammered the gavel repeatedly, the restless crowd would not be quiet.
As the meeting continued, the crowd grew more restless and unruly and several public speakers seemed to feed off of that energy.
“How y’all doing things is the same way as during slavery,” Anthony Shahid told the council while wearing a white rope tied like a noose around his neck. “Nothing has changed.”
Shahid is another long-time community activist who has been outspoken on alleged police abuses. Along with Duvall, he is often credited for helping to bring evidence to light that led to murder charges against former St. Louis City Police Officer Jason Stockley for the murder of Anthony Lamar Smith. His pointed words on Tuesday night included several heated exchanges with Trakas and the use of a racial epithet against the council member.
In return, Trakas warned Shahid more than once that he could be removed from the room.
The verbal fireworks between the two men reflect the growing divide between a council that seems to be seeking a measured degree of change and a segment of residents who are demanding drastic action now. While they chanted more than once on Nov. 5 for the council to “fire Belmar,” Page told local television station KSDK this past weekend that the chief continues to be “the right person to lead us.”