The St. Louis Police Officers Association is calling for a group of players from the St. Louis Rams to face disciplinary action for making the "hands up, don't shoot" gesture, a sign of support for the Ferguson community, during player introductions prior to Sunday's game at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. The group issued a statement Sunday evening that also demanded an apology from the NFL.
"I know that there are those that will say that these players are simply exercising their First Amendment rights," Jeff Roorda, the group's business manager, said in a statement. "Well I've got news for people who think that way, cops have first amendment rights too, and we plan to exercise ours. I'd remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertiser's products. It's cops and the good people of St. Louis and other NFL towns that do. Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play. If it's not the NFL and the Rams, then it'll be cops and their supporters."
Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Kenny Britt, Jared Cook and Chris Givens walked onto the field with their hands in the air. It's become a familiar sight among demonstrators since the shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer in August.
"The SLPOA is calling for the players involved to be disciplined and for the Rams and the NFL to deliver a very public apology. Roorda said he planned to speak to the NFL and the Rams to voice his organization's displeasure tomorrow," the statement read.
St. Louis Rams
After the game, the players explained that their motivations were benevolent, meant as a sign of support for the larger community and the need for healing.
"We just understand that it's a big tragedy and we hope something positive comes out of it," Bailey said.
"We kind of came collectively together and decided we wanted to do something," Cook told Nick Wagoner of ESPN. "So we wanted to come out and show our respect to the protests and the people who have been doing a heck of a job around the world."
"We wanted to show that we are organized for a great cause and something positive comes out of it," Britt said to Wagoner after the game. "That's what we hope we can make happen. That's our community. We wanted to let the community know that we support the community."
Protesters massed outside the Dome on Sunday, but there were no reports of trouble with the crowds. Rams security and the local police were stationed in and around the building to prevent any serious disruption. The team thanked local police after the game.
The Rams -- whose headquarters are roughly 15 minutes from Ferguson -- have extended their support to the community in the months since Brown's death. Earlier this fall, they let the high school football team use their practice facilities while the schools were closed during the unrest. They showed public service announcements with a unity theme, more small gestures that the local police organization didn't take issue with.
Rams support of Ferguson
The SLPOA includes quotes from Roorda, the group's business manager, who led a fundraising effort on behalf of Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown. A career law enforcement official, Roorda was fired from the Arnold, Mo., police department in 2001 for filing false reports and making unauthorized recordings of conversations with his superiors.
Here's the full statement from the SLPOA via KSDK:
St. Louis, Missouri (November 30, 2014) - The St. Louis Police Officers Association is profoundly disappointed with the members of the St. Louis Rams football team who chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury this week and engage in a display that police officers around the nation found tasteless, offensive and inflammatory.
Five members of the Rams entered the field today exhibiting the "hands-up-don't-shoot" pose that has been adopted by protestors who accused Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson of murdering Michael Brown. The gesture has become synonymous with assertions that Michael Brown was innocent of any wrongdoing and attempting to surrender peacefully when Wilson, according to some now-discredited witnesses, gunned him down in cold blood.
SLPOA Business Manager Jeff Roorda said, "now that the evidence is in and Officer Wilson's account has been verified by physical and ballistic evidence as well as eye-witness testimony, which led the grand jury to conclude that no probable cause existed that Wilson engaged in any wrongdoing, it is unthinkable that hometown athletes would so publicly perpetuate a narrative that has been disproven over-and-over again."
Roorda was incensed that the Rams and the NFL would tolerate such behavior and called it remarkably hypocritical. "All week long, the Rams and the NFL were on the phone with the St. Louis Police Department asking for assurances that the players and the fans would be kept safe from the violent protesters who had rioted, looted, and burned buildings in Ferguson. Our officers have been working 12 hour shifts for over a week, they had days off including Thanksgiving cancelled so that they could defend this community from those on the streets that perpetuate this myth that Michael Brown was executed by a brother police officer and then, as the players and their fans sit safely in their dome under the watchful protection of hundreds of St. Louis's finest, they take to the turf to call a now-exonerated officer a murderer, that is way out-of-bounds, to put it in football parlance," Roorda said.
The SLPOA is calling for the players involved to be disciplined and for the Rams and the NFL to deliver a very public apology. Roorda said he planned to speak to the NFL and the Rams to voice his organization's displeasure tomorrow. He also plans to reach out to other police organizations in St. Louis and around the country to enlist their input on what the appropriate response from law enforcement should be. Roorda warned, "I know that there are those that will say that these players are simply exercising their First Amendment rights. Well I've got news for people who think that way, cops have first amendment rights too, and we plan to exercise ours. I'd remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertiser's products. It's cops and the good people of St. Louis and other NFL towns that do. Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play. If it's not the NFL and the Rams, then it'll be cops and their supporters."