A rash of recent gun violence and several officer-involved shootings have put St. Louis under the microscope.
As tensions run high, politicians look for solutions in gun control policies and social programs, while local police officers wonder whether they have any support left in the prosecutor’s office.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner promoted her progressive agenda as recently as mid-July, claiming that crime and incarceration rates were down.
Despite the rhetoric of fear and skepticism fostered by those who doubted my reform agenda, the reforms we have in place are working. Crime is down and so is incarceration. People can change if they have hope and the services they need.
— Kimberly Gardner (@StLouisCityCA) July 19, 2019
But a summer spike in gun violence quickly brought the issue back to the forefront, as reports indicate that 12 children have been killed by gun violence just since April.
City leadership is primarily focused on a push for stricter gun control — an uphill battle for a blue city in a deep red state. Toward that end, Democratic Missouri Rep. William “Lacy” Clay took part in a recent town hall with Mayor Krewson aimed at passing legislation that would allow cities to enact stricter gun control laws than their surrounding states.
CNN sent a reporter to St. Louis to discuss the situation with heartbroken residents, some of whom pointed out that the problem went much deeper than just gun control or access to firearms. Activist James Clark, who works with Better Families St. Louis, told reporters that kids needed to be reached on a community level first. (RELATED: St. Louis Activist Blasts Black On Black Crime: ‘We Cannot Fight Racism And Each Other At The Same Time)
“We shoot each other dead in the street, every day of the week in every major city. And we’ve got to give it the attention that it demands. I can appreciate professional athletes taking a knee for what police do to African-Americans, but what athlete is going to have the courage to take a knee for what we do to each other? That’s what time it is right now, we cannot fight racism and each other at the same time,” Clark told CNN.
But the uptick in violence was followed — within days — by back-to-back officer-involved shootings that sparked additional protests and anger in the community.
The first occurred at a local mall, the St. Louis Galleria. Terry Tillman, 23, was spotted carrying a firearm on mall property by a security guard. Missouri is an open-carry state, but the mall is a designated gun-free zone. In addition, Tillman was a convicted felon and therefore unable to legally obtain a firearm.
Police were called to the scene, and as they approached Tillman to inform him of the mall’s firearm policy, he ran. The foot pursuit ended when Tillman was shot to death nearby.
Terry Tillman was reportedly carrying a handgun with an extended magazine filled with 25 rounds in the Galleria, before he was shot and killed by a police officer on Saturday https://t.co/JClhwgS7nf
— KMOX St. Louis News (@kmoxnews) September 4, 2019
County Prosecutor Wesley Bell encouraged residents to allow the investigation to run its course, but protests erupted anyway as critics of the police invoked the disproven Ferguson trope “hands up, don’t shoot” and argued that Tillman had been running away when he was shot from behind. An investigation coupled with footage from multiple security cameras revealed that Tillman had raised his weapon prior to being shot. A preliminary autopsy report confirmed that he was not shot in the back.
A second officer-involved shooting took place just days later when a man attempted to resist arrest for possession of marijuana. Cortez Shepherd, 28, was spotted with an undisclosed amount of marijuana on his lap as he sat in a vehicle with several others gathered around it.
He was asked to exit the vehicle, and when he failed to comply, police officers removed him from the vehicle. One of the officers called attention to the gun in the suspect’s pocket, and Shepherd immediately struggled to grab it. One officer fired his taser, but when Shepherd continued to struggle he pulled his department-issued handgun and fired once.
— St. Louis Post-Dispatch (@stltoday) September 5, 2019
City officials attacked the police department over the shooting, arguing that marijuana arrests were not worth pursuing. Circuit Attorney Gardner agreed, confirming Alderman Megan Green’s assertion that the officers should not have pursued that particular arrest.
— Kimberly Gardner (@StLouisCityCA) September 5, 2019
Neither Green nor Gardner commented on the fact that Shepherd, a convicted felon, was illegally carrying a firearm and was on supervised parole at the time.
A retired police officer, who spoke to the Daily Caller on condition of anonymity, argued that Gardner’s response would only make the situation worse. “Those police officers know they are working for a prosecutor who doesn’t have their backs. Most cops do the job because they believe that they are doing the right thing. When you mess with that, when you show them that you’re not going to back them up, they get scared. They’re afraid to do their jobs because if they do, they’re afraid she’ll turn the prosecution on them.”
Reflecting on the recent rash of violence, St. Louis police officer Ryan Lynch pleaded with the public to demand that local officials back the police. He wrote in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, “If you’re as appalled as I am over the events this past summer, write your state politicians. We need backing here in the city. We need to be able to do our job fully. I’m tired of seeing dead babies.”
St. Louis Police Officers Association business manager Jeff Roorda agreed, telling local radio host Marc Cox that Gardner’s actions have repeatedly telegraphed to her own police department that she is more interested in social justice causes than in cleaning up her city.
Roorda argued that more gun laws wouldn’t help because the police force is so depleted they can’t enforce the laws already on the books. According to Roorda, the St. Louis Police Department is short 153 officers — in some districts, there are only four or five officers on a shift to deal with one shooting after another.
And Roorda noted that even if arrests were made, Gardner has made a show of refusing to prosecute cases from a list of at least two dozen officers. Her office will not accept evidence from officers on that list, nor will she move forward with any cases they attempt to file. Gardner has not given any concrete reason for refusing to accept cases or evidence from those officers, and none have been subjected to the necessary hearings to have them removed from duty.
Gardner herself became the subject of an investigation when William Tisaby, her hand-picked investigator in the case against former Missouri Republican Governor Eric Greitens, was charged with seven counts of felony perjury and evidence tampering. Gardner was accused of suborning perjury, and when police officers attempted to execute a search warrant on her office, she refused to allow them entry.
Top St. Louis prosecutor Kim Gardner playing games’ with grand jury investigation, judge says https://t.co/h6Q48NSnXn via @stltoday@joelcurrier
— Gilbert Bailon (@GilbertBailon) March 6, 2019
Judge Michael Mullen, who signed off on that search warrant, scolded Gardner in open court and accused her of “playing games.” But as Roorda told the Caller at the time, the damage was already done. Noting that she had plenty of time to destroy any relevant evidence, he added, “When you’re the defendant, and she is in this case, you don’t get to tell the police that the search warrant is invalid. Defendants don’t get to say whether or not search warrants are valid. If they could, no search warrant would ever be executed.”
Gardner called the search warrant “retribution” for her attempts to hold police officers accountable.
Mayor Krewson has asked Republican Governor Mike Parson for help, requesting regular patrols from state highway patrol to supplement an over-burdened and understaffed city police department. Parson responded by pledging money and promising to dispatch highway patrol officers to assist in the city, but he stopped short of offering support to Krewson’s proposed gun control measures.