The disheartening takeaway here is that St. Louis County police seem to have learned nothing at all from Ferguson. When a protest begins, they’re still responding out of the gate with an overwhelming show of force. They’re still portraying protesters as the enemy, instead of citizens with rights that the police are obligated to protect. They still clearly see their own role as not facilitators of First Amendment rights, but as the countervailing weight when citizens choose to exercise those rights.
I don’t doubt that it’s difficult to be a cop assigned to one of these protests. I’ve seen the videos. I’ve seen the protesters screaming, taunting and insulting cops. But that’s also part of the job. Your job is to not take it personally. The job is to continue to serve and protect — and that includes those people who you think aren’t particularly grateful for it. That “Our streets” chant, the indiscriminate arrests and use of pepper spray, the mass show of force, the utter arrogance of the department leadership — none of that is going to make the job any easier. It’s all just more fuel for the fire. It means less trust in police to fairly and impartially investigate the next shooting. It means less deference to police authority, even for orders that may be perfectly lawful and reasonable. It means more anger when the next protest fires up. The police are the state actors here. They’re the public servants. It’s up to them to win back the public trust. When you arrest and beat one of your own, and then try to claim that the undercover cop was “resisting,” you’ve lost all credibility.
It’s time for contrition, for some magnanimity. That can only start at the top.