Letters to the Editor

POLICE FORCE
To the Editor:
Long after the conclusion of the Fat Tuesday Parade, streams of juveniles toting 12-packs freely entered Soulard, past groups of idle police ("Copping an Attitude," RFT, Feb. 24). I did not see one beer-packing child stopped and questioned by a police officer. This was the missed opportunity to intervene and prevent. Much later, Chief Henderson orchestrated his riot. This is not the 1960s. Soulard is not Kent State. We don't need anyone maimed or worse because of an abuse of authority. In short, Henderson ordered an attack on a benevolent crowd under the guise of protecting public decency because of some bared breasts. The time has come to remove Ron Henderson and replace him with a competent police chief.

Jon Echols

To the Editor:
I witnessed the heroic Chief Henderson lead the charge of the light brigade followed by the stormtroopers into a crowd of young adults Tuesday evening spraying an innocent young woman with Mace. Having the police spread out in regular uniform (not in riot gear) throughout Soulard on Saturday was effective in controlling the crowd. Some police even threw beads for a flash of breasts. Bringing in the cavalry and the Third Army to take control of the streets Tuesday evening led to the raucous behavior. Next year the Mardi Gras revelers should bring in Busty Heart for reinforcement!

Pat Williams

To the Editor:
Leave it to the St. Louis police to screw up what was once a good thing for St. Louis. Last year's Soulard Mardi Gras was probably the best time I've ever had at a public event in St. Louis. I thought to myself, "Hell, why waste my money going to New Orleans when St. Louis throws a great Mardi Gras bash two miles from my house?" Unfortunately, times have changed, and I fear the Soulard Mardi Gras is only going downhill from here.

Last year's Mardi Gras was great. Something like half-a-million people showed up, and everyone had a great time. This year, to put it bluntly, just plain sucked. Soulard Mardi Gras has become over-regulated. Closing everything at 11 p.m. and clearing the streets is just bullshit. The most fun I had at Mardi Gras last year happened after 11 p.m., but now Mardi Gras is over at 11 every night.

The police presence is another matter. I was Maced right in the head by the "troops" in blue as they plowed through the crowds terrorizing innocent people who were out to have a good time. I could understand getting Maced if I threw a beer bottle or something, but I was just there having a good time. Hell, most of the things thrown at the cops were thrown after they began to bully the crowd! Hell, even I was tempted to throw something after I got Maced.

The police may say that the crowd was getting out of control and they needed to "take action," but from what I saw, the only thing out of control at the start was the police. The crowd didn't grow out of control until they were terrorized, and this was to be expected considering the situation.

I hope a situation like this can be avoided next year. The Soulard Mardi Gras of 1998 was a great time, and hopefully we can have another one like it. Maybe all of the heat that the police are taking now over their behavior will burn them, and they'll think twice before ruining Mardi Gras two years in a row. I'm not holding my breath on that one, though. After the bullshit I've experienced this year in St. Louis, I'll be heading to New Orleans next year.

I'd rather spend my money going to New Orleans than stay here and be Maced and terrified by a police force that has no idea how to control a crowd without violence.

Steven J. Marsh

To the Editor:
I think that your coverage of the Soulard Mardi Gras incident involving the St. Louis Police and groups of partygoers forgot to take into account important cultural customs and traditions that have existed for many years in the Third Police District in St. Louis.

For decades in the mostly white, blue-collar, working-class area, it has been considered proper weekend social etiquette for males to become intoxicated and fight the police. This behavior has been passed down from father to son and likewise from veteran patrol officers to rookies. Also for those from the neighborhood joining the police force it is something that has always occurred. The Soulard District is now attracting people from the entire metro area who did not grow up with the Friday- and Saturday-night tavern-police fights as a local sport.

The only noticeable change over the years has been that the local louts who regularly participated in drunken fights with the police never used to complain about taking their lumps from a police nightstick; now they do.

While the police conduct outraged and amazed outsiders, it was just a regular weekend for the cops and drunks. Those journalists and casual observers need to include this historical data before making an overall judgment of the situation. There is a reason that local police district used to be called the "Fighting Third."

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