A St. Louis city meeting about police oversight devolved into a skirmish between police supporters and citizens seeking reform Wednesday in yet another sign of how overtly factious the St. Louis region has become since the police shooting of Ferguson teen Michael Brown.
The meeting stayed relatively calm for the first hour as attendees testified to the aldermanic public-safety committee about a proposal to create a civilian oversight board, which would review complaints against police. Both Kansas City and Columbia already have similar review boards.
But when a police officer's testimony drew loud whispers and angry mutterings from the packed room, Jeff Roorda, the business manager for the police union, lost it.
"Come on, mister chairman, how about some order here, huh?" Roorda yelled at the committee's chair, Alderman Terry Kennedy, drawing yells and cheers from the crowd.
Kennedy waited for the room to quiet down before firing back at Roorda: "Excuse me, first of all, you do not tell me my function."
Roorda began to shove his way toward the front of the room, colliding into St. Louis resident Cachet Currie and pushing her out of his way, according to online videos of the meeting.
Currie says she suffered a head injury from Roorda's manhandling. A photo of Currie with a small abrasion on her forehead spread online Wednesday, and Currie says her glasses were knocked off her face and trampled.
"I got caught in whatever Roorda and Kennedy had going on," Currie told KMOV (Channel 4), adding that she was trying to leave the room when she was shoved. "I said, 'Wait a minute, don't push me.'"
This is the woman who was assaulted by Jeff Rooda. This is her injury from the president of the police association. pic.twitter.com/Fv5UJDtaoz— Alexis (@keenblackgirl) January 29, 2015
Roorda, who was wearing an "I am Darren Wilson" bracelet in support of the ex-Ferguson Police officer who killed Brown in August, told media outlets he was the victim in the skirmish.
"I tried to approach the podium, and the anti-police radicals started pushing and shoving the police officers and myself," Roorda said, according to CNN.
After another fifteen minutes of shoving, shouting and chaos, Kennedy adjourned the meeting. No one was arrested.
Activists who attended the meeting to advocate for the civilian review board said Roorda's behavior illustrated why citizens are asking for more police oversight.
"His aggressive outburst was a flagrant attempt to undermine the democratic process and silence the voices of St. Louis citizens who attended the hearing hoping to create a more trusting and cooperative police-community relationship," the Organization for Black Struggle said in a statement. "Roorda's impulsive aggression is precisely the type behavior that has tarnished the relationship between community members and police, proving exactly why we need a strong and independent Civilian Oversight Board to hold rogue police accountable."City leaders, including alderman Antonio French, who sponsored the bill on the civilian oversight board, pointed to the scuffle as evidence of the city's long-simmering divisions.
We saw once again tonight how fractured our city remains. We have a lot of work to do. I believe a strong civilian review board can help.— Antonio French (@AntonioFrench) January 29, 2015