LAWRENCE — Given the unrest triggered by the acquittal of police officer Jason Stockley in the 2011 killing of Anthony Smith, journalists looking for comment over the weekend from an expert on race relations in that part of the country may call on Clarence Lang, professor and chair of the Department of African & African-American Studies at the University of Kansas.
He is a former St. Louis area resident and the author of “Grassroots at the Gateway: Class Politics and Black Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, 1936-75” (University of Michigan Press, 2009).
“Based on the history of police violence in St. Louis and the activism against it, this is completely consistent with that pattern,” Lang said. “Even with the national and global attention to police violence in that region, it continues.
“Clearly the publicity and visibility have not been enough to change the culture of abuse and complicity by other aspects of local government,” Lang said. “It’s not only the officer, but also the department that covers for them. It’s the judiciary that depends on the cooperation of law enforcement. So there are these intertwined relationships that allow officers who act in a capricious and abusive manner to continue to do so and to do so without any major consequences, save for maybe being able to leave their position and take a position at another police department in the area or the region. Because one of the things to keep in mind with St. Louis is that there are something like 90 municipalities, and what happens is these officers get into trouble with one police department, and they move to another.”
Lang said St. Louis is not much different, in most respects, from other major U.S. cities.
“There is a lot more attention to St. Louis, given what happened in Ferguson in 2014, but what happens in St. Louis is like what happens in metro areas around the nation,” he said. “We’re just paying attention to it because there is a heightened level of vigilance, a heightened level of organization and mobilization and response to it.
“The real problem is it contributes to further delegitimizing of law enforcement. There’s a whole argument of law and order. But when people see that law enforcement can act in abusive ways and not have to face any consequences, it exacerbates the problem that already exists, certainly in black and other communities of color, where you don’t trust and don’t respect the police, and they simply become another gang that is able to occupy the community.”
Journalists may get in touch with Clarence Lang over the weekend by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. He will check his inbox frequently throughout the weekend.