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."

John Hofmann

To the Editor:
If you can stand one more letter regarding Soulard Mardi Gras, please allow me to add my thoughts.

St. Louis is a grand old river city, French in origin, with merits too numerous to mention. We also have an inferiority complex that has been oft noted. Our Mardi Gras celebration is second only to New Orleans'. New Orleans has capitalized on its pre-Lenten festival; why can't we? Do we lack the room for hordes of tourists bearing credit cards? No, we have room and will have even more once the convention-center hotels get it together. Do we lack room for so many to view the parades? No, I was in Saturday's parade, and it could easily be extended further down Seventh Street. What are we missing? St. Louis doesn't promote the event as we do our massively attended Fair St. Louis, which is easy to fix. We need better public transportation to and from the event, but if tiny Eureka Springs, Ark., can organize shuttles to move several thousand tipsy people around their substantial annual blues festival, certainly St. Louis can figure out how to do it. Finally, St. Louis needs to relax. The police department, the Soulard residents and the partygoers all need to relax. Mardi Gras attendees, regardless of how intoxicated they may be, need to remember that they are guests in the neighborhood. Residents bought houses in Soulard; they have to expect some disruption during Mardi Gras, just as French Quarter residents do. They should also expect police protection for themselves and their property from rowdier visitors. And the police involved in the Fat Tuesday fracas should all go to New Orleans and visit with their law-enforcement brethren there to figure out how to serve and protect without giving St. Louisans a black eye literally and the city of St. Louis a publicity black eye all over the country. We don't need St. Louis' finest adding to our inferiority complex.

Jennifer Grotpeter

CARDINAL SIN

To the Editor:
Two big thumbs-up on Ray Hartmann's "Commentary" concerning the Cardinals and their quest for a new stadium ("We Don't Get Fooled Again? Don't Be So Sure," RFT, Feb. 17). I love the Cardinals, hold a Rams PSL and voted for the tax initiative to fund the building of the Trans World Dome. Maybe the Cardinals do need a new stadium in the future. However, if they want public funds to build it, it's only fair that they truly and fully open their books to the public whose financial support they are seeking. Only in the spirit of full disclosure can a fair deal be struck in any new stadium-financing plan.

All too often these days, professional-team owners utter the same false and tired mantra: "If you don't build me a new stadium, I won't be able to compete with all the other teams that do have new stadiums, and therefore I will be forced to move the team." The time has come to stop accepting these blanket assertions at face value. Facts, not rhetoric, should guide what amount of public support is appropriate for professional sports teams.

George E. Fitzsimmons

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