U.S. eviction bans are ending. That could worsen the spread of coronavirus

By Michelle Conlin

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Last month, as the coronavirus was surging in Houston, recently unemployed hospital secretary Ramzan Boudoin got more bad news: She had six days to vacate her apartment for failing to pay the rent.

A Texas ban on evictions had enabled Boudoin to keep the two-bedroom place she shared with her daughter and granddaughter while she searched for another job. But that moratorium expired on May 18. The landlord took legal action and Boudoin couldn’t come up with $2,997 plus interest to settle the judgment.

So this month Boudoin, 46, packed her family into a 2008 Nissan compact and headed to New Orleans, where she moved in with her mother and her sister’s family. In all, nine people share the packed three-bedroom house. Bedouin said her mother suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a lung illness that makes her particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 in a city where cases are rising at an alarming pace.

“Every minute, we are worried someone is going to give it to her,” Boudoin said.

As the coronavirus began to shut down large swaths of the U.S. economy in March, spiraling millions of Americans into unemployment, a patchwork of state and federal eviction bans were enacted to keep people in their homes. Now those protections are vanishing. Moratoriums have already expired in 29 states and are about to lapse in others. On Friday, a federal stay, which protects roughly one-third of American renters who live in buildings with mortgages backed by the federal government, will run out unless Congress acts fast.

As many as 28 million people could be evicted in coming months, according to Emily Benfer, a visiting law professor at Wake Forest University who is the co-creator of Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, a national research center on evictions. That’s nearly triple the estimated 10 million Americans who lost their homes during the years after the 2008 mortgage crisis.

Public health and housing experts say such a massive displacement of renters would be unprecedented in modern history. In addition to the hardship that comes with losing one’s home, they say, the evictions could lead to a second-wave public health crisis as the newly homeless are forced into shelters or tight quarters with relatives, increasing the risk of spread of COVID-19.

Evictions have resumed in cities including Houston, Cincinnati, Columbus, Kansas City, Cleveland and St. Louis, according to data compiled by Princeton University at its Eviction Lab. No single, comprehensive source exists to track U.S. evictions nationwide.

In Milwaukee, eviction filings dropped to nearly zero after Wisconsin instituted an emergency 60-day ban on evictions on March 27. But after that order was lifted May 26, evictions surged past their pre-pandemic levels. Milwaukee recorded 1,966 eviction filings in the seven weeks following the ban’s expiration, an 89% increase from 1,038 notices filed in the seven weeks leading up to the moratorium, the Princeton data show.

Dr. Nasia Safdar, an infectious disease physician and the medical director for infection prevention at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said it’s impossible at this point to establish a scientific correlation between evictions and COVID-19 spread and deaths; diagnosed coronavirus cases are up 150% in Milwaukee, for example, since the eviction moratorium ended.

What is not in doubt among public health experts, she said, is that evictions are dangerous during a pandemic. “A key tenet of prevention in a pandemic is to have the infrastructure that will minimize transmission from person to person,” Safdar said. “Any activity that breaks down that structure … makes containment of a pandemic exceedingly difficult.”

A July 17 study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland found that in 44 U.S. cities and counties, eviction filings by landlords have almost returned to their usual levels in places where moratoriums have expired, or where bans were never enacted.

That study said evicted tenants are “at greater risk of contracting, spreading and suffering complications from COVID-19” because precariously housed people often are unable to shelter in place, and because they tend to use crowded emergency rooms for their primary medical care.

As evictions rise in some coronavirus hot spots, displaced families are doubling up with relatives or moving into shelters, creating conditions for the virus to spread widely, according to Diane Yentel, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Low Income Housing Coalition, the U.S.’s premiere affordable housing policy group.

“In these cases where social distancing is difficult or impossible, the likelihood of them contracting and spreading coronavirus increases exponentially,” Yentel said.

A fragile safety net is adding to the strain. Enhanced $600 weekly unemployment benefits provided by the federal government are set to evaporate next week, at a time when the national unemployment rate is 13.3%.

Landlords say the pandemic is a crisis for them as well. Bob Pinnegar, CEO of the National Apartment Association, says eviction is always a “last resort,” but “the rental housing industry alone cannot bear the financial burden of the pandemic.”

He said nearly half the country’s landlords are mom-and pop operators who have invested in rental property for retirement income.

COVID POSITIVE, AND FACING EVICTION

For weeks, eviction courts across America were shuttered due to COVID-19. Now, over Zoom, conference calls and even in person in some places, proceedings are ramping up again.

In Houston’s Harris County, more than 5,100 eviction cases have been filed since the virus upended the U.S. economy in March, according to data compiled by Houston-based data science firm January Advisors.

That’s still roughly half of pre-pandemic levels. But it’s worrisome to public health advocates given that Harris County has seen confirmed coronavirus cases jump 500% since Texas’s eviction ban was lifted May 18, the Reuters COVID tracker shows.

Swapnil Agarwal is the 39-year-old founder of Nitya Capital, one of the largest landlords in Texas and owner of the Providence at Champions Apartment Homes from which Boudoin was evicted. During the pandemic, the company has filed more than 120 eviction notices against renters in Houston, a Reuters review of court records found. Houston-based Nitya has $2 billion in real estate assets under management, according to its website.

Agarwal said his firm evicted Boudoin because she was behind on her rent and “we realized that there was no intention to pay,” an allegation she disputes. He said Nitya has gone to great lengths to keep tenants in place and has provided $4 million in rent assistance to those who lost their jobs.

Meanwhile in Milwaukee, Mariah Smith was served an eviction notice on July 1. A shipping clerk for an aircraft parts maker, she lost her job in May. Smith said she hasn’t been able to pay her rent because she never received her $1,200 federal stimulus check and is still waiting to receive unemployment benefits.

Her fortunes have only gotten worse. Smith, 25, last week was diagnosed with coronavirus after experiencing chills, body aches and a sore throat. She said just walking leaves her winded.

On Thursday, she faces a court hearing on her eviction. Nick Homan, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, agreed to help. He said he’s handling around 25 eviction cases a week now, more than double his typical load.

After Reuters contacted Smith’s landlord — a limited liability company named LPT 46 — an attorney representing the firm, Marvin Bynum II, said the company just learned of Smith’s COVID diagnosis. “The landlord is hopeful that Ms. Smith recovers soon, and is confident the parties can swiftly reach a mutually amicable resolution,” Bynum said.

Homan said he’ll see what happens Thursday, but the larger issue remains.

“There’s nobody in any position of authority to stop eviction right now,” Homan said. “I don’t see anybody making decisions on public health. I only see landlords making decisions about their finances.”

(Reporting by Michelle Conlin; Editing by Tom Lasseter and Marla Dickerson)

Five police shot during U.S. protests, Trump says he could bring in military

By Jonathan Ernst and Brendan O’Brien

WASHINGTON/MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – At least five U.S. police were hit by gunfire during violent protests over the death of a black man in police custody, police and media said, hours after President Donald Trump said he would deploy the military if unrest does not stop.

Trump deepened outrage on Monday by posing at a church clutching a bible after law enforcement officers used teargas and rubber bullets to clear the way for him to walk there after he made his remarks in the White House Rose Garden.

Demonstrators set fire to a strip mall in Los Angeles, looted stores in New York City and clashed with police in St Louis, Missouri, where four officers were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

An emotional St Louis police commissioner, John Hayden, said about 200 protesters were “jumping up and down like crazy people”, looting and throwing fireworks and rocks at officers.

“We had to protect our headquarters building, they were throwing fireworks on officers, fireworks were exploding on officers,” he told reporters. “They had officers with gas poured on them. What is going on? How can this be? Mr Floyd was killed somewhere else and they are tearing up cities all across the country.”

A police officer was also shot during protests in the Las Vegas Strip area, AP news agency said, quoting police. Another officer was “involved in a shooting” in the same area, the agency said.

It gave no details of the shootings or the officers’ condition. Police declined to comment to Reuters.

Trump has condemned the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American who died after a white policeman pinned his neck under a knee for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25, and has promised justice.

But, with anti-police brutality marches and rallies having turned violent after dark each day in the past week, he said rightful protests could not be drowned out by an “angry mob”.

“Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled,” Trump said. “If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

Floyd’s death has reignited simmering racial tensions in a politically divided country that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with African Americans accounting for a disproportionately high number of cases.

CRITICISM OF CHURCH VISIT

After his address, Trump posed for pictures with his daughter, Ivanka, and U.S. Attorney General William Barr at St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House.

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church diocese in Washington D. C., Michael Curry, was among those who criticized Trump’s use of the historic church for a photo opportunity.

“In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes,” he said on Twitter. The church suffered minor fire damage during protests on Sunday night.

The White House said it was clearing the area before a curfew.

A few hours later, thousands of people marched through Brooklyn, shouting “Justice now!” while some passing drivers honked in support.

Television images showed crowds smashing windows and looting luxury stores along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan before the city’s 11 p.m. curfew. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the curfew would be moved to 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

Two police officers were struck by a car at a demonstration in Buffalo, New York, on Monday night. Officials said the driver and passengers were believed to be in custody. It was not clear whether the incident was intentional.

In Hollywood, dozens of people were shown in television images looting a drug store. Windows were shattered at a nearby Starbucks and two restaurants.

AUTOPSIES

A second autopsy ordered by Floyd’s family and released on Monday found his death was homicide by “mechanical asphyxiation,” or physical force that interfered with his oxygen supply. The report says three officers contributed to his death.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner later released autopsy findings that also called Floyd’s death homicide by asphyxiation. The county report said Floyd suffered cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by police and that he had arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease, fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use.

Derek Chauvin, the 44-year-old Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on Floyd, was arrested on third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges. Three other officers involved in the arrest have not been charged.

Floyd’s death was the latest case of police brutality against black men that was caught on videotape and prompted an outcry over racism in U.S. law enforcement.

Dozens of cities are under curfews not seen since riots after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The National Guard deployed in 23 states and Washington, D.C.

 

(Reporting by Aakriti Bhalla, Subrat Patnaik, Lisa Lambert, Andy Sullivan, Maria Caspani, Peter Szekely, Lucy Nicholson, David Shepardson, Michael Martina, Brendan O’Brien, Sharon Bernstein, Lisa Richwine and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Dan Whitcomb and Nick Macfie; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Lincoln Feast, and Timothy Heritage)

Denied a license, Missouri’s only abortion clinic awaits judge’s ruling

FILE PHOTO: Planned Parenthood's employees look on as anti-abortion rights advocates hold a rally in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

By Robert Langellier

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Missouri health officials on Friday refused to renew the license of the state’s only abortion clinic, but the facility will remain open for now as a judge left in place an injunction blocking its closure.

At a brief circuit court hearing on Friday, Judge Michael Stelzer said it might be days before the court would come to a decision on whether the state could shut its only abortion clinic, which is operated by women’s healthcare and abortion provider Planned Parenthood.

“I think you guys are expecting an order soon. I don’t know that order is going to be today,” Stelzer said during the hearing, which lasted less than five minutes.

If the clinic were to close, Missouri would become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion clinic.

Missouri officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“This decision signals the true motive behind this license renewal mess that has left patients in limbo, uncertain about their health care: to ban abortion without ever overturning Roe v. Wade,” Dr. Colleen McNicholas, a physician at Planned Parenthood’s Missouri clinic, said in a statement.

The state is one of 12 to pass laws restricting abortion access this year, some aimed at provoking a U.S. Supreme Court review of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood sued Missouri health officials after they warned they would decline to renew the license of the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis on the grounds it failed to meet their standards.

Stelzer on June 10 issued a preliminary injunction blocking the clinic’s closure until the state made an official decision on its license.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral.

The legal battle in Missouri began after Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill on May 24 banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood has vowed to fight to protect abortion access in Missouri and to push back on regulatory standards that the women’s healthcare organization believes put a burden on abortion rights.

Court documents show that Missouri health officials declined to renew the clinic’s license to perform abortions because they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over “potential deficient practices.”

(Reporting by Robert Langellier in St. Louis; writing by Gabriella Borter; editing by Scott Malone, Sonya Hepinstall and Jonathan Oatis)

Judge weighs fate of Missouri’s only abortion clinic after court hearing

Planned Parenthood's employees look on as anti-abortion rights advocates hold a rally in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

By Gabriella Borter and Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – A St. Louis judge said on Tuesday he will work quickly to decide whether Missouri’s only abortion clinic can remain open after a hearing on a lawsuit aimed at forcing state health officials to renew the facility’s license to perform the procedure.

Women’s healthcare and abortion provider Planned Parenthood sued Missouri last week after state health officials refused to renew the license of the St. Louis clinic, called Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood, because, they said, they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over “potential deficient practices,” according to court documents.

Judge Michael Stelzer held a hearing on Tuesday morning on motions filed by Planned Parenthood in its request for a preliminary injunction that would keep the clinic open longer. He could schedule more hearings or rule on the request.

Stelzer intervened on Friday before the clinic’s license to perform abortions was set to expire hours later, issuing a temporary restraining order against the state at the request of Planned Parenthood that enabled the clinic to continue providing the procedure.

After listening to arguments from both sides on Tuesday, Stelzer said he will work “expeditiously” to come to a decision in the case, according to a court spokesman.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in U.S. politics, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral. Abortion rights advocates have said restrictions being passed at the state level amount to state control of women’s bodies.

If the facility’s license is not renewed, Missouri would become the only U.S. state without an abortion clinic since the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that legalized abortion nationwide and recognized a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

The legal battle in St. Louis began after Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill on May 24 banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy, making Missouri one of nine U.S. states to pass anti-abortion legislation this year.

Anti-abortion activists have said they hope to prompt the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling by enacting laws such as the one recently passed in Missouri that are assured of facing court challenges.

The Supreme Court last week sent a mixed message on abortion, refusing to consider reinstating Indiana’s ban on abortions performed because of fetal disability or the sex or race of the fetus while upholding the state’s requirement that fetal remains be buried or cremated after the procedure is done. Several other abortion-related cases also are heading toward the high court.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)

Fate of Missouri’s only abortion clinic at stake as St. Louis judge holds hearing

A banner stating "STILL HERE" hangs on the side of the Planned Parenthood Building after a judge granted a temporary restraining order on the closing of Missouri's sole remaining Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

(Reuters) – The fate of Missouri’s only abortion clinic will be at stake on Tuesday when a St. Louis judge hears arguments in Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit aimed at forcing state health officials to renew the facility’s license to perform the procedure.

Planned Parenthood sued Missouri last week after state health officials refused to renew the license of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood in St. Louis because, they said, they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over “potential deficient practices,” according to court documents.

Abortion is one of the most socially divisive issues in U.S. politics, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral. Abortion-rights advocates say the bans amount to state control of women’s bodies.

St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer intervened on Friday before the clinic’s license to perform abortions was set to expire at midnight. He issued a temporary restraining order against the state at the request of Planned Parenthood, allowing the clinic to continue offering the procedure.

Stelzer will hold a hearing on Tuesday morning on motions filed by Planned Parenthood in its request for a preliminary injunction that would keep the clinic open longer. He could schedule more hearings or rule on the request.

If the facility’s license is not renewed, Missouri would become the only U.S. state without an abortion clinic since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that established a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

The legal battle in St. Louis began after Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill on May 24 banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy, making Missouri one of nine U.S. states to pass anti-abortion legislation this year.

Anti-abortion activists say they aim to prompt the newly installed conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade by enacting laws such as the one recently passed in Missouri that are virtually assured of facing court challenges.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in CHICAGO; Editing by Paul Tait)

As conservative U.S. states pass abortion bans, Missouri’s sole clinic could close

People take part in a pro-choice march in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., May 30, 2019 in this image obtained from social media. Ael Diehm/via REUTERS

By Pavithra George

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Missouri could become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion provider on Friday, as its only abortion clinic could lose its license to perform the procedure unless a St. Louis judge intervenes.

The legal battle in St. Louis comes a week after Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy, making Missouri one of nine U.S. states to pass anti-abortion legislation this year.

Planned Parenthood sued Missouri this week after state health officials said the license for Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood in St. Louis was in jeopardy because they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over “potential deficient practices,” documents filed in a St. Louis court showed.

The circuit judge in the case, Michael Stelzer, was expected on Friday to rule on Planned Parenthood’s request for a temporary restraining order and injunction against the state, according to local media.

Outside the clinic, a handful of anti-abortion protesters stood holding “Choose Life” signs early Friday.

If Stelzer rules against Planned Parenthood, the clinic’s license to perform abortions would expire at midnight, making Missouri the only U.S. state without an abortion clinic since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that established a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

Abortion is one of the most socially divisive issues in U.S. politics, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral, while abortion-rights advocates say the bans amount to state control of women’s bodies.

On Thursday, abortion-rights demonstrators held a rally in downtown St. Louis, where police arrested Alderman Megan Ellyia Green and several Planned Parenthood board members during a sit-in at the Wainwright State Office Building, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported.

Anti-abortion activists say they aim to prompt the newly installed conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade by enacting laws that are virtually assured of facing court challenges.

A series of prominent U.S. media companies said they will rethink working in Georgia, if a new state law takes effect, banning abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected by doctors. That standard effectively bans abortions at about six weeks into a pregnancy, before some women would even be aware they were pregnant.

Those companies include AT&T Inc’s WarnerMedia, CBS Corp, Viacom Inc, Comcast Corp’s NBCUniversal, AMC Networks Inc, Walt Disney Co and Netflix Inc.

(Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Scott Malone, Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)

Federal judge limits St. Louis police conduct during protests

Federal judge limits St. Louis police conduct during protests

By Chris Kenning

(Reuters) – A federal judge ruled Wednesday that St. Louis police cannot shut down non-violent demonstrations and employ chemical agents to punish protesters, dealing a victory to a civil liberties group that challenged the police response to protests.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry issued her order following complaints of misconduct during protests that gripped the city after the Sept. 15 acquittal of white former officer Jason Stockley on murder charges in the killing of black suspect Anthony Lamar Smith, 24, in December 2011.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court in St. Louis on Sept. 22, alleging that police used excessive force and retaliated against people engaging in activities protected by the First Amendment.

Protesters cited anger over tactics including the use of pepper spray and “kettling,” in which officers form a square surrounding protesters to make arrests. Some caught inside police lines said officers used excessive force.

The clashes evoked memories of riots following the 2014 shooting of a black teenager by a white officer in nearby Ferguson, Missouri.

On Wednesday, Perry issued a preliminary injunction limiting police tactics in responding to protests.

“Plaintiffs’ evidence — both video and testimony – shows that officers have exercised their discretion in an arbitrary and retaliatory fashion to punish protesters for voicing criticism of police or recording police conduct,” Perry wrote.

Koran Addo, a spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, said the city would comply with the order.

Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, said in a statement that the ruling was a win for the First Amendment.

The protests that followed the former officer’s acquittal turned violent at times, with some demonstrators smashing windows and clashing with police.

But Perry, in her order, said police cannot declare an assembly unlawful and enforce it against those engaged demonstrations unless the persons pose an imminent threat of violence.

She also barred the use of pepper spray without probable cause to make an arrest and without providing clear warnings to protesters with a chance to heed them.

The judge also ordered both sides to mediation.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; editing by Grant McCool)

Demonstrators unveil “Stop Killing Us” banner at St. Louis baseball game

(Reuters) – Demonstrators unfurled a banner that read “Stop Killing Us” at a Major League baseball game on Friday in St. Louis, where they were protesting the acquittal of a white former police officer who was accused of murdering a black man, local media reported.

A video posted on Facebook showed a group of demonstrators high above the playing field holding a banner with the St. Louis Cardinals’ mascot drawn on it as they shouted “No Justice. No Baseball” and “You can’t stop the revolution”.

The demonstrators were ushered out of the Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals lost to the Brewers 5-3. They then joined 200 other people in a march before the group was confronted by police in riot gear, who used a Taser on one and pepper spray on others, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported.

At least two people were arrested, police said on Twitter.

The incident comes two weeks after a judge acquitted white former officer Jason Stockley, 36, of first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of African-American Anthony Lamar Smith, 24, following a police chase.

The acquittal sparked days of protests that at times were violent, with demonstrators clashing with police and destroying property. Some 123 people were arrested and about a dozen police were injured during the unrest.

Before the brief confrontation with police on Friday dozens of protesters marched downtown and blocked traffic before they arrived at Busch Stadium, where they met police behind barricades and got into arguments with fans after the game, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported.

The incident in St. Louis comes two weeks after campaigners inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement unfurled an anti-racism banner at a Boston Red Sox baseball game before security guards escorted them from the ballpark.

The banner, hung over the famed Green Monster wall at the Major League team’s Fenway Park stadium, read “Racism is as American as baseball”.

NFL players have been kneeling during the National Anthem to draw attention to what they say is social and racial injustice. The gesture sparked a national debate after President Donald Trump told a political rally a week ago that any protesting player was a “son of a bitch” who should be fired, and urged a boycott of NFL games.

Trump’s statements triggered protests by dozens of players, coaches and some owners before last Sunday’s games.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

After protests, St. Louis mayor says address racism

Demonstrators continue to protest for a fourth day after the not guilty verdict in the murder trial of Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

By Brendan O’Brien

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – The legacies of racism, not only the violent protests that gripped St. Louis after a white former police officer was acquitted of murdering a black man, must be addressed, the city’s mayor said on Tuesday.

Mayor Lyda Krewson said she had listened and read the reaction of residents since the controversial verdict on Friday and was ready to find ways to move the city forward.

“What we are seeing and feeling is not only about this case,” Krewson told reporters.

“What we have is a legacy of policies that have disproportionately impacted people along racial and economic lines,” she added. “This is institutional racism.”

The city has been working to expedite existing plans to increase equity as well as develop new approaches, including changing how police shootings are investigated and granting subpoena powers to a police civilian oversight board, and expanding jobs programs, Krewson said.

“We, here in St. Louis, are once again ground zero for the frustration and anger at our shared legacy of these disproportional outcomes,” she said. “The only option is to move forward.”

Krewson said town halls scheduled for Tuesday night and later were canceled. As she spoke, dozens of protesters chanted outside her office.

Some activists had planned to voice complaints about police tactics used during protests after a judge found former officer Jason Stockley, 36, not guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith, 24.

Largely peaceful protests during the day have turned violent at night with some demonstrators carrying guns, bats and hammers, smashing windows and clashing with police. Police arrested 123 people on Sunday, when officers in riot gear used pepper spray on activists.

The clashes have evoked memories of riots following the 2014 shooting of a black teenager by a white officer in nearby Ferguson.

Protesters have cited anger over a police tactic known as “kettling,” in which officers form a square surrounding protesters to make arrests. Some caught inside police lines Sunday said officers used excessive force, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

St. Louis police are also investigating whether some of its officers chanted “Whose streets? Our streets,” appropriating a refrain used by the protesters that one civilian oversight official said could inflame tensions.

“I wish that wouldn’t have been said,” Krewson said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri asked the city in a Tuesday letter to preserve video evidence ahead of what it said was a likely lawsuit challenging police tactics.

Complaints of police misconduct were being reviewed, but intimidation tactics would not be tolerated, Krewson said. Police had generally shown “great restraint,” she said.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning in Chicago; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Steve Orlofsky)

Black cops in St. Louis stuck between public, fellow officers

FILE PHOTO: Bill Monroe poses for a portrait as he protests the not guilty verdict in the murder trial of Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/File Photo

By Valerie Volcovici

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – During a peaceful protest moments before St. Louis would erupt into three nights of racially charged riots, five people confronted a black police officer alone in his Jeep.

“How do you sleep at night?” Lisa Vega, who is Hispanic, asked the officer through an open window. Next to Vega, two black men and two black women nodded.

Such questions are typical of what African-American police officers face every time a white colleague kills a black man in the United States.

Black cops are sometimes accused by their fellow African-Americans of betraying their race by joining the police, while at the same time they face pressure from their colleagues to stand by another officer.

A number of police departments across the United States have been accused of excessive force and racially discriminatory conduct in recent years, fueling a public debate and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The black cop in the Jeep calmly responded that he slept well and that he had bills to pay. He declined to be interviewed by the reporter who witnessed the encounter.

Peaceful daytime protests in St. Louis turned into three nights of vandalism and unrest that resulted in at least 123 arrests. With rain falling, Monday night’s demonstrations remained peaceful.

The disturbances were provoked by the acquittal last Friday of white former officer Jason Stockley, 36, who was charged with first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of African-American Anthony Lamar Smith, 24, following a police chase.

Prosecutors accused Stockley of planting a gun in Smith’s car, but Judge Timothy Wilson found the officer not guilty in a non-jury trial.

CONSEQUENCES

St. Louis Detective Sergeant Heather Taylor took a stand against Stockley, publicly declaring in a video message posted on YouTube and a police association website three days before the verdict that he should be convicted.

“Someone needed to say it,” said Taylor, 44, president of the Ethical Society of Police, an association formed by black officers in 1972 to combat racism within the St. Louis police department and improve community relations.

She sees her role as calling out fellow officers for unjustified killings, which she hopes police of all races will eventually embrace.

But doing so has consequences.

After she appeared in the video with Redditt Hudson, co-founder of the National Coalition of Law Enforcement Officers for Justice, verbal abuse poured in, largely on social media and from retired officers because, she said, no officer would dare confront her on the job.

“I was called everything. You name it,” Taylor said, citing the most offensive of racial and misogynistic slurs.

Taylor said she was unbowed by the attacks from the law enforcement family, but rejection from her fellow African-Americans cuts deep.

“Things like that, they hurt me,” she said. “But just imagine if law enforcement didn’t have minorities.”

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department did not respond to requests by Reuters for comment.

CODE OF SILENCE

Demonstrator Bill Monroe said Taylor’s video came too late to be effective and expressed little confidence that reformers like her can improve the system from within.

Monroe, 71, is a black former St. Louis police detective with gray dreadlocks who is writing a screenplay about his experiences on the force in the 1960s and 1970s. He marched with a T-shirt reading “Anthony Lamar Smith” and a U.S. flag hanging upside down on its staff, a U.S. sign of distress.

“My community is in distress, and that’s why I walk amongst those brothers and sisters trying to get justice,” Monroe said.

While all police officers still encounter an internal code of silence that prevents them from speaking out more forcefully against abusers, this is especially true for black cops, Monroe said.

“Nobody wants to be known as a troublemaker,” he said.

Taylor, the president of the largely black police association, expressed confidence that police culture could change with steps such as hiring more officers of color. In a city that is 44 percent white and 49 percent black, according to U.S. Census data, only 29 percent of St. Louis police are black, Taylor said.

In the meantime, she faces resistance within and outside the force. Taylor grew up in what she called the ghetto of St. Louis and said her fellow African-Americans were shortsighted in their criticism of black cops.

“I wish that people who felt that way would walk in our shoes,” Taylor said. “Walk in our shoes and you would see how difficult it is to be a minority or a double minority in this police culture.”

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici in St. Louis and Daniel Trotta in New York; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Matthew Lewis)