(Washington Post) – The protesters marching through St. Louis on Sunday evening were armed only with posters and chants, all meant to put pressure on Mayor Lyda Krewson to redirect city funds away from law enforcement.
“Resign Lyda, take the cops with you,” they shouted on the way to the mayor’s house in the Central West End, banging on drumsand carrying signs that said, “Respect us.” The first-term Democrat had publicly released the names and addresses of some fellow activists, and now they wanted to bring their demonstration to her door.
But as the peaceful crowd of about 500walked along a private, gated street, a white couple who emerged from a marble mansion had something else in mind.
Around 6 p.m. Sunday, a barefoot man in a pink collared shirt walked out from the five-story house, carrying a semiautomatic rifle as he appeared to threaten the group. A few feet away, a woman pointed a pistol at the crowd, her finger directly on the trigger.
The Washington Post was unable to independently confirm the couple’s identity as of early Monday, at which point a video of the scene on social media had been viewed almost 9 million times. President Trump retweeted it without explanation on Monday morning. The White House later declined to say why he did so.
In a region that has long been in the spotlight for tensions over policing and racial inequality, the interaction seemed to capture the divisions rippling throughout the nation in 2020.
It is unclear whether the mansion’s owners were the couple captured in the video of the protests, and attempts by The Post to contact them late Sunday night were unsuccessful. Neither Krewson nor the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department immediately responded to requests for comment.
For weeks, massive crowds in St. Louis — like those in cities across the United States — have rallied against police brutality and racial injustice following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.
Several protesters personally handed letters to Krewson at a demonstration last week, calling on her to shutter the city’s Medium Security Institution, a 1,100-bed prison known as the “workhouse,” and slash city funding for St. Louis police down to nothing. During a live-stream Q&A on Facebook on Friday, she turned to a crumpled stack of those letters and began reading them one by one.
“Here’s one that wants $50 million to go to Cure Violence, $75 million to go to Affordable Housing, $60 million to go to Health and Human Services, and have zero go to the police,” she said in the now-deleted video, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
For each letter calling on police defunding, Krewson also named the writer and the person’s street or home address — even as some viewers in the comments pleaded with her to stop.
The public identification, or “doxing,” of activists is not illegal, but such an act carries a particularly fraught legacy in the St. Louis area: Since Michael Brown was shot by police in nearby Ferguson, Mo., six people connected to the protests that followed in 2014 have been found dead — some of them in violent, mysterious ways, the Associated Press reported.
One St. Louis alderwoman said the mayor had resorted to “intimidation of the residents [she was] elected to represent.” Another called it “a move designed to silence dissent.” Scheduled in St. Louis for the following day was a rally involving the far-right Proud Boys, a group with a history of assaulting leftist protesters.
While emails or letters to elected officials are considered public records in Missouri, the Post-Dispatch reported, these documents and any names or addresses listed on them are usually released to the public only after a records request.
Hours later, Krewson said she was sorry for the transgression and took the video off the Internet, writing, “Never did I intend to harm anyone or cause distress.”
But her apology was not enough to quell the demonstrations. Following a number of tense confrontations over the weekend, more than 40,000 people signed an online petition calling on Krewson to resign.
On Sunday evening, they brought their campaign to the mayor’s house, painting the word “resign” on the street in front.
“As a leader, you don’t do stuff like that,” state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge (D) told the crowd through a megaphone, according to the Post-Dispatch. “It’s only right that we visit her at her home.”
As they made their way to a rally at Krewson’s house on Lake Avenue, they passed by 1 Portland Place, a gargantuan, white marble home that St. Louis magazine said had once been called “St. Louis’ most dazzling mansion.”
The owners of the “Midwestern palazzo” on a private street had undergone a decades-long renovation to bring the home back to its original glory. As the magazine described in 2018, they spent years obsessing over a 45-foot-high limestone dome, a house organ so large its pipes lead to the basement and chandeliers fitted with Tiffany shades, one of them a “perfect copy” of a fixture hanging from the Pisa Cathedral.
Yet the barefoot couple standing in front of the house’s perfectly manicured green lawns did not need to do much to defend the mansion. Moments after they pulled out their weapons, a black man in a “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” shirt directed the crowd to keep moving.
“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,” he shouted.