A St. Louis police officers’ group called on the NFL to punish five Rams players who stood with their hands raised before trotting onto the field for pregame introductions Sunday.
The St. Louis Police Officers’ Association said it was “profoundly disappointed” with what it called a “display that police officers around the nation found tasteless, offensive and inflammatory.” It called for the players involved to be disciplined and for both the league and team to issue a “very public apology.”
The so-called “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture has been commonly used by demonstrators protesting the decision of a St. Louis County grand jury to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the August 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in suburban Ferguson. Some witnesses said Brown, who was black, had his hands up before being fatally shot by Wilson, who is white.
Prior to kickoff of their game against the Oakland Raiders, Rams wide receivers Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt came out together and raised their hands, but the move was obscured by a smoke machine in the upper reaches of the Edward Jones Dome. Jared Cook, Stedman Bailey and Chris Givens then came out and stood together with hands raised in the fog.
“I just think there has to be a change,” Cook said after the Rams’ 52-0 win. “There has to be a change that starts with the people that are most influential around the world.
“No matter what happened on that day, no matter how the whole situation went down, there has to be a change.”
Coach Jeff Fisher said he’d not been aware the gesture had been planned by the players, all of them black.
Cook said players have been too busy to go to Ferguson, plus “it’s kind of dangerous down there and none of us want to get caught up in anything.”
“It takes some guts, it takes some heart, so I admire the people around the world that have been doing it,” he added.
SLPOA Business Manager Jeff Roorda was quoted in a statement released by the organization as saying ” 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 … 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.”
Across the street from the stadium, about 75 protesters gathered in the second half as about 30 police wearing riot gear watched from a distance. Protesters chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot!” ”No justice, no football!” ”This is what democracy looks like,” and “We’re here for Mike Brown.”
James Weaver of St. Louis was among the protesters outside the stadium and argued with two fans leaving. They were separated by police.
“People don’t understand what this is about,” Weaver said. “This is about a young man lying on the street for four hours. People are mad.”
Weaver added that police are “clicking their boots like the Gestapo.”
The Rams had additional security measures in place for the game, including armed personnel from the National Guard. The team has wanded fans outside entrances all season.
Roorda also played down the notion that the players were exercising their right to free speech, saying “”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,” Roorda added. “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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.