One of the nation's largest black police organizations is throwing its support behind a St. Louis law enforcement watchdog group that's accused the city's police department of fostering systematic racism.
The 9,000-member National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers released a statement praising the St. Louis Ethical Society of Police for calling out instances of alleged racism in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, including blacks being passed over for promotions or being assaulted by white officers.
The Ethical Society of Police, created in 1972 to combat racism in the department, also voiced support for embattled St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who filed a lawsuit this month against the city and its police union alleging a coordinated, racist conspiracy to drive her from office.
"The institution of policing has been inherently biased against people of color and low income, and was specifically designed to be that way," the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers said in a statement released Tuesday. "This in no way should be interpreted as saying that all law enforcement officers are racist, but must be accepted as an acknowledgment and understanding that there are amongst us those who utilize the power and might of their position to perpetuate racial profiling, police misconduct, excessive use of force, and unethical, unprofessional behavior where it concerns communities of color."
At a news conference this month, Heather Taylor, president of the St. Louis Ethical Society of Police, said that while her members have not always agreed with Gardner's policies and decisions, the prosecutor has raised points in her lawsuit that her organization has been dealing with for years.
"That lawsuit is legitimate," Taylor said. "There is a climate in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and a culture that breeds and is accepting of racism, discrimination, corruption."
City officials and the St. Louis Police Officers Association called Gardner's lawsuit "meritless."
"Gardner essentially claims that her critics have conspired together to prevent her from doing her job as a prosecutor. Nothing could be further from the truth," Jeff Roorda, the business manager of the St. Louis Police Officers Association who was named as a defendant in Gardner's lawsuit, said in response. "My police officers and I want her to do her job."
But Taylor cited several examples of racism in the police department, including a racial discrimination lawsuit brought by an African American police captain that was settled in June for $1.1 million.
She also cited the case of Detective Luther Hall, an African American officer, who in 2017 was beaten by three white police officers who mistook him for a protester during a demonstration in St. Louis over the acquittal of a white police officer on murder charges stemming from the shooting of a 24-year-old black man. Hall claimed one of the officers who assaulted him told him he would "beat the f--- out of him like Rodney King."
All three officers pleaded guilty to federal charges of deprivation of rights under color of law.
Taylor also cited statistics showing that 60% of African American police officers in St. Louis leave the department within their first seven years on the job.
"We have repeatedly highlighted the disparities along racial lines with discipline, promotions, job placement," Taylor said. "Therefore the circuit attorney stating she has experienced bias at the hands of some SLMPD officers is far from meritless."
Gardner, the first black woman elected as chief prosecutor in St. Louis, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and its police union on Jan. 13 alleging she's endured racist and illegal efforts from opponents to block reforms meant to benefit minorities.
The suit accuses the city and police union of violating the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, designed to combat white supremacy organizations. The suit also appears to mark the first time an elected local prosecutor has brought a federal case against the police union for racially motivated civil rights violations.
The suit, filed in the Eastern District of Missouri, claims to take aim at "entrenched interests" that Gardner said have tried to prevent her reforms through a "broad range of collusive conduct," including the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate her office.