A series of events led to the St. Louis County Police Department making an unfortunate decision on Twitter last night. Before we get into the details of their error, allow me to supply you with the necessary exposition.
(1) On Sunday the St. Louis Rams played a home game against the Oakland Raiders. Running out of the tunnel, five of the Rams’ players stopped and posed in the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” manner that has been displayed as a sign of protest in recent days.
(2) Later that day, the St. Louis Police Officers Association released a statement expressing disappointment “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.”
The statement concluded by demanding a “very public apology” and pronounced that “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.”
(3) On Monday, the NFL released a statement saying that they would not be disciplining the players for their actions. (Because, first amendment, and also, duh).
(4) Later that night, Police Chief Jon Belmar sent an email to his staff that went as follows:
I received a very nice call this morning from Mr. Kevin Demoff of the St. Louis Rams who wanted to take the opportunity to apologize to our department on behalf of the Rams for the “Hands Up” gesture that some players took the field with yesterday.
Mr. Demoff clearly regretted that any members of the Ram’s organization would act in a way that minimized the outstanding work that police officers and departments carry out each and every day. My impression of the call was that it was heartfelt and I assured him that I would share it with my staff.
Thank you for your hard work, … one night to go. Stay safe.
(5) That email went public, leading the Rams Executive VP Kevin Demoff to explain his conversation with Police Chief Belmar.
“In those conversations, I expressed regret that players’ actions were construed negatively against law enforcement,” Demoff told ESPN.com.
“At no time in any of the conversations did I apologize for the actions of our players,” Demoff added. “[The Rams] do believe it is possible to support both our players’ First Amendment rights and the efforts of local law enforcement to make this a better community.”
(6) The St. Louis Police Department responded on Twitter, of all places, showing that they are fairly unaware of their social media perception, and completely unaware that Tweets is Watching.
This first tweet leads to a Facebook post regarding the manner at hand. Apparently the St. Louis PD was aware that 140 characters would not be enough to express their side of the story in full. This is that Facebook post:
This post gets into the nuance of human conversation. Demoff clearly expressed regret in some form, but in his statements to ESPN, he stands by his players and cites their first amendment rights. Chief Belmar took that conversation and paraphrased the words of Demoff in order to express a similar, but not entirely accurate account of their conversation to the rest of his staff.
At this point, it should be clear that this is an argument about semantics. The Rams players made a statement by coming out onto the field in the way they did. The St. Louis Police didn’t like that statement, and came back with a demand for an apology because they found the demonstration “tasteless, offensive and inflammatory.” The NFL took no action because there was no need to and because there is no way the NFL is walking into another PR fiasco. The Rams head office reached out to the police force to basically say, “Hey, we support you, and thanks for what you do. It’s a real bummer you feel that way about what our players did. Those are your feelings and I recognize them even if I don’t agree with them.” And then the St. Louis Police felt vindication because they believed this to be the “apology” that they demanded in the first place.
But just in case you didn’t see that this is an argument more about the English language than the rights of players to show support of protestors, the St. Louis Police Department made it perfectly clear.
Yes, that is a real tweet. Yes, it is from the official account of the St. Louis County Police Department. Yes, it uses the dictionary definition of the word “apology” in order to argue that they are right and if you disagree then you are wrong because the dictionary says so.
For anyone who has ever spent any time on the Internet, it is obvious that rooting back to the dictionary is one of the weakest arguments a disdainful commenter can come up with. It’s basically crying foul. “BUT YOU SAID THIS AND THIS MEANS THIS SO THAT’S WHAT THIS IS NOW.”
It is obvious why the St. Louis Police would want to make this argument, as it makes them look correct. But it will only make them look correct to anyone that already agrees with them. For anyone following the story who is against the police department and their recent actions, it basically reads as a big sign reading “ATTACK ME INTERNET, I’M ON THE DEFENSIVE.”
Twitter knew what was coming.
And the Internet storm that had been brewing finally began to fall.
There were those who could not get past the fact that the St. Louis Police was actively choosing to get involved with Twitter fights.
Others noted the inability of the St. Louis PD to distinguish between a sincere apology and what basically amounted to side-eye from the Rams.
Some made jokes, at the expense of the poor Internet-argument choices that the St. Louis PD attempted to employ.
There was a parody account created. They replaced the lowercase “L” in @stlcountypd with a capitol “I”, causing me minor confusion before noticing their handywork. Subtlety is a craft.
And of course, some tweets got real.
Like, super real.
If anything, this whole fiasco should serve as a warning to those might want to argue on Twitter. By all means, argue about dumb shit on Twitter, beef with your boyfriend, subtweet your exes, throw minor shade at celebrities when they do something silly. But for the love of Tweets, don’t get this petty about shit that actually matters.
I like how the Rams players handled the situation. They made their statement coming out of the tunnel, trounced the Raiders on the field, and have held Twitter silence since this all broke.
I (shockingly) like how the NFL handled the situation. They came out quickly after the police demanded an apology with a “Nah, bruh, that’s a bad look.” They explained where they stood and didn’t get into why, because they didn’t have to.
I like how the Rams organization and specifically Kevin Demoff handled the situation. If you run a company, any company, you don’t want the police to be against you, for a multitude of reasons. But more than anything, Demoff showed civility to all sides throughout the conversations and official statements. The police expressed disdain with members of a company that he is in charge of, and he reached out to reaffirm that just because our players make a statement it does not mean we are anti-police or actively trying to start shit with you. He wanted to assure the police that the Rams respect what they do. He looked at all of the evidence and acted like a human being.
I do not like how the St. Louis County PD handled the situation. They should not have had a problem with the Rams display in the first place. If they find the “hands up, don’t shoot” pose offensive, for whatever reason, that is their business. But they should also recognize that a large portion of the public is going to disagree with that assessment, and further, that their “taking offense” does not mean that a group of grown men need to apologize for exercising constitutional rights. This whole debacle should have been over before it started.
But it happened, and the best thing we can do now is learn from it. Save Twitter for us idiots that are complaining about the latest episode of The Newsroom and waiting for the new Kanye album to drop.
The next time the St. Louis County Police Department feels the need to explain itself to the public, they should find a better way than Twitter snark to get their point across.
Because if they don’t, Tweets will be Watching.