Dear Alderwoman Young,
For the last two months, my administration, Chief Dotson and his men and women, and I, along with our peers in St. Louis County, have been planning, preparing, and organizing in anticipation of the reaction to the St. Louis County Grand Jury decision. As Rich Gray told your committee we would, we have also begun to address the underlying issues that the shooting death of Michael Brown has brought to the surface.
We have met many dozens of times with each other, with federal, state, and other local officials, with protest leaders and with protesters themselves. We have made ourselves clear: our job is to keep everyone safe, protect property, prevent criminal acts, and, as important as any of that, to protect the constitutional rights of our citizens to gather, to bring their grievances to their government, and to express themselves.
It is also important for our constituents to know that we are laying the groundwork for being a different and better city and region, and that change is necessary, inevitable, and irreversible.
Let me say this as clearly as I can: After two months of planning, I am absolutely convinced that the leaders of the demonstrations and the vast majority of demonstrators themselves are committed to non-violence. I feel the exact same way and just as strongly about our police department and our individual officers. I believe the leaders of police departments throughout the region have learned a lot of lessons from the early days of the protest movement, and will be much more effective at keeping the peace and protecting constitutional rights.
I am going to address two specific issues. First, the role of the National Guard; second, the list of 19 rules of engagement put forward by the Hands Up, Don't Shoot coalition.
To put the role of the Guard in context, let me tell you what our goal is not. It is not our job - it would be illegal - to disrupt, minimize, or in anyway impede our constituents' constitutionally protected right to assemble and speak freely.
It is also important that you know that our primary missions are to keep people safe, protect property, and safeguard constitutional rights in the City of St. Louis. That's where our focus will be.
So, we are going to request that 400 members of the Guard be deployed in our City, to be split up over two, 12-hour shifts. We will not, unless something happens that we have not foreseen, post them where there are organized protests. Instead, we will use them to prevent random acts of violence, property destruction, looting, or other criminal activity away from the demonstrations. We will post guardsmen along with police officers at 45 locations throughout the City. Our goal is to keep all of our citizens and their homes and businesses safe, including those who are in neighborhoods that are nowhere near the protests.
As many of you know, 50 individual organizations have been meeting under two banners, "Hands Up" and "Don't Shoot." Two weeks ago, they put forward what they call 19 proposed rules of engagement. I consider that a military term. Because this is not war, I am calling them the proposed rules of conduct.
Chief Dotson, St. Louis County Chief Jon Belmar, Captain Ron Johnson, and Missouri Public Safety Director Dan Isom have been meeting and are continuing to meet with the coalition to find common ground and areas of agreement. During the first meeting, they agreed to more than half of the 19 proposed rules. In the second meeting, the two sides agreed to create clear lines of communication during the protests to help police keep the protesters safe, to reduce the chances of misunderstandings, and where possible to give leeway to the protesters to occupy spaces to be disruptive, but not violent.
Some of the proposed rules, like giving the demonstrators 48 hours advanced warning that the decision is coming, are out of our control. Still, others will be honored on a case-by-case basis - like allowing the protesters to occupy public spaces, as so happened Sunday afternoon in the Delmar Loop and yesterday afternoon in Clayton.
For others, the answer will be yes with caveats. For instance, we will honor safe houses, and will consider churches to be sanctuaries, except in extremely rare circumstances. We will not use subterfuge such as building inspections to shut them down. In order to ensure open lines of communication, Chief Dotson and I are going to meet with the pastor of the only church identified in the City as a safe house, St. John's Episcopal Church.
As for protective gear, we have two very important principles to balance. On the one hand, we do not want to appear to militarize our response to the demonstrations and want to do everything we can to de-escalate the situation. So, our officers will start by wearing their normal uniforms. On the other hand, we must keep everyone safe, including police officers. As I said before, I expect the vast majority of protesters to be committed to non-violence. But, the FBI has warned that there may be others who intend to use the demonstrations for their own criminal purposes. If our officers put on their personal protective gear, it is not to intimidate peaceful protesters. It is for the sole purpose of keeping everyone safe.
I do expect that some of the demonstrations will be peaceful and disruptive. I do expect widespread civil disobedience and many arrests for low-level municipal violations. I do expect both police and the vast majority of demonstrators will be non violent. I do expect our state, our region, and our City to make substantial change going forward. I do expect we will get through this.
We will continue to communicate directly with organizers of the various groups in the coalitions, our constituents, aldermen and other elected officials, and indirectly with everyone in our region through the news media.
Thank you in advance for everything you and members of the committee are doing to promote non-violence. Working together, collaboratively, we will make our City and our region a more fair and just place for everyone.
Mayor Francis G. Slay