St. Louis, MO — A St. Louis City officer dressed in riot gear wore a “Wilson” name badge on his right bicep while standing in front of protestors at City Hall on Friday morning.
Marchers had stopped at City Hall as part of a “Circus of Injustice” action. Activist Elizabeth Vega pulled a large pig piñata with the names of all the police officers who have killed African Americans. A Santa Claus held up a sign that stated, “All we want for Christmas is justice.”
One person in the group noticed the officer’s “Wilson” badge and thought it was the officer’s name. She shouted, “We have a Wilson here.” But others saw that his actual badge – which was printed across his chest – read, “Coates.”
Amy Hunter, who works with the YWCA and is mother of three sons, asked the officer if wearing Darren Wilson support symbols while on duty was helping him build a better relationship with his community – which is nearly 50 percent African-American.
“I know that we are supposed to be moving towards positive interactions with the police department,” Hunter told the St. Louis American. “You can probably imagine how the African-American community would feel about an officer – particularly a white officer – wearing a Wilson support anything on his person.
“We are all working towards peace,” she said. “That is not a positive action towards that at all. It makes me feel unsafe.”
Marchers also held up signs with their Christmas lists items, which included “Police accountability,” “Demilitarize all local police,” “Restorative justice programs,” “Community review board and power” and a “Special prosecutor.”
St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson said when he saw the St. Louis American’s picture of the officer’s Wilson badge, he “was not happy.”
According to the department’s policy:
“Only Department-approved and sanctioned pins, insignias, or awards may be worn on the uniform. Those acceptable include the service star pins award insignias, FBINA and PERF pins. No employee of the Department, while in uniform, will wear any insignia, badges, buttons or patches which are not issued by the Department.”
While normally the department holds an investigation into policy violations, Dotson said, “In this case, the picture speaks a thousand words. He clearly didn’t follow our rules, and he will be disciplined.”
Before officers go out on duty, their supervisors conduct uniform inspections. The officer’s supervisor will also be disciplined for not correcting the officer’s behavior, Dotson said.
Dotson said this is not the type of behavior that will help build bridges with the community. At the protest, people chanted at the officers, “Why are you in riot gear? We don’t see a riot here.”
As far as police dressing in riot gear, Dotson said that he understands people may not like it. However, “the equipment is designed to keep people safe,” he said.
When the protestors arrived, City Hall was gated up and the riot police were standing in front of the entrance with shields and helmets. In the past, City Hall has welcomed protestors inside, including Ferguson protests. However, for the past couple weeks, the building has been on lock down when protestors arrive. Dotson said he was unsure whether it has been the police commanders on the scene that have ordered the building closed or whether it has been the mayor’s office.