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Good police officers "can't sit in complicit silence" about racial injustice, top prosecutor in St. Louis says

St. Louis prosecutor on justice reform

Police officers cannot remain silent about racial inequalities in the criminal justice system and deaths like George Floyd's in Minneapolis, said Kimberly Gardner, the circuit attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. As the top prosecutor in St. Louis, Gardner said the country has to "attack the systemic racism" in police forces and the court system.

"We have to support good police that we know exists, but they can't sit in complicit silence and watch some of their police officers abuse the community, disrespect the community in which they police, which are largely, predominantly people of color that we know are overrepresented in the criminal justice system," Gardner said on CBSN Monday. "That blue code of silence needs to go."

Gardner said the country has to "get rid of this us versus them" mentality. "The police are also made of the community," she said. 

Floyd, who was black, died after a white officer pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for several minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and pleaded for air. One officer has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, and he was fired along with three others. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison will lead all prosecutions related to Floyd's death, officials announced Sunday night. 

Floyd's death has sparked protests nationwide, including in St. Louis. 

Gardner, who is up for reelection this year, said a hindrance in holding "bad actors" of police departments accountable is the power of police unions. She filed a federal lawsuit in January against city officials and the city's main police union accusing them of blocking her efforts for criminal justice reform. The union has called the lawsuit "the last act of a desperate woman."

"We have to call for reforms of the police union's collective bargaining contracts," she said. "They basically negotiate behind closed doors ... how to keep on the bad actors in the police departments and make it difficult for police chiefs and the community to hold those bad actors accountable, even the prosecutor."

Gardner said prosecutors like her are "met with resistance" to reform and she asked if "we have the will" to make changes to the status quo.

"Do we have the will to attack the systemic racism that we know exists in the criminal justice system? Do we have the will to address the imbalance police unions have in terms of hiding the blue code of silence when we see some police officers use their power to take a liberty or life and they have unchecked balance?" she said. 

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