WATCH: COGIC Bishop Charles Blake Sr. Reads Open Letter to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson on Steps of City Hall, Threatening to Hold Future Convocations Elsewhere Unless Steps Are Taken to Implement Recommendations For Local Police Reform In Response to Stockley Verdict

Photo by Wiley Price

“As COGIC holds its 110th Annual International Holy Convocation during a time of outrage and grief, we are compelled to work in the interest of justice,” Church of God In Christ Presiding Bishop Charles Blake Sr. read at the steps of City Hall Friday afternoon.

While church members from around the globe were gathered at America’s Center, Blake and the leadership body held a press conference after a brief meeting with Mayor Lyda Krewson. The face-to-face between Blake and Krewson was in response to the weeks of unrest that have taken place in the wake of the former St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley being found not guilty of first degree murder for the 2011 fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith. Blake didn’t discuss what took place during the conversation, but he shared the letter that he presented to Krewson.

“As pastoral leaders, we understand the frustration and outrage of citizens at yet another failure of justice regarding the shooting death of a black man at the hands of a police officer,” Blake read. “We encourage lawful protests that seek the redress of grievances and offer our prayers for the family of Mr. Smith and the entire community.”

Several faces from the frontline of the Stockley verdict protests were on hand observing the news conference – including Melissa McKinnies, Cori Bush, Rev. Darryl Gray and State Rep. Bruce Franks Jr. and Tory Russell.

“As an organization, we have been responsible for generating over $125 million dollars in the St. Louis regional economy over the past seven years, so we must also challenge responsible parties to correct the wrongs of a justice system that is deeply broken,” Blake read. “We thank you for your willingness to meet with our delegation to discuss strategies to improve police-community relations and to address the concerns of residents.

Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis President and CEO Michael McMillan was also among those on hand to hear Blake read the letter, which stated their position and issued suggestions for the city in moving beyond the unrest.

“We are concerned about both the actions of former officer Stockley and the way law enforcement and its administration are carried out,” Blake said. “We unequivocally affirm the excellent job that many police officers do daily. We appreciate the fact that police officers literally put their lives on the line daily.

Yet, we cannot ignore the fact that there are numerous citizens who have experienced unjust targeting, humiliation, loss of physical freedom, and even physical harm at the hands of a relatively few St Louis police officers. The historical record will show that this is not a new phenomenon, nor simply the perspective of a few troublesome activists.”

The letter included recommendations such as independent investigations for police involved shootings and proactive efforts with regards to police community relations. In addition to investigations of police involved shootings, Blake said that COGIC stands in agreement with community demands that included mandatory use of body cameras (and support of legislation that would make it a criminal offense for police not to wear issued body cameras or to properly upload the footage), subpoena power for the civilian oversight board and adoption of the Ferguson Commission report.

“We are obligated to urge strong consideration of steps to ensure that there will be justice in police-involved shootings,” Blake read. “We also support the enactment of necessary systemic changes in this critical area. In response to community concerns, COGIC supports our members engaging in orderly and peaceful direct action during our conference. Movement toward the goals and initiatives outlined above will greatly impact our deliberations regarding where to hold future convocations and other conferences.”

COGIC is contracted to bring the annual conference back to St. Louis through 2019, but will likely begin working ahead for the planning process for the next few years.

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SOURCE: The St. Louis American – Kenya Vaughn