East St. Louis Discriminated In Not Hiring White Officers, Federal Jury Finds

Categories: Politics
alvin parks 3.jpg
Photo: Jennifer Silverberg
Mayor Alvin Parks did not have much to smile about Wednesday.
Two black residents of East St. Louis won a civil rights lawsuit this week in southern Illinois complaining that they were harassed and discriminated against when they recommended that the predominately black city hire a white police chief and white police officers.

Wyatt Frazer and Della Murphy were serving on the city's Board of Fire and Police Commissioners in the fall of 2007 when they were unceremoniously fired shortly after going to bat for a white patrol officer they wanted to hire over the objections of East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks and city manager Robert Betts.

According to Frazer and Murphy's attorney, Tom Kennedy, Parks and Betts harassed the white candidate during a job interview, encouraging him to look for work elsewhere and asking why he was racist.  

A similar situation occurred months earlier when the commission recommended hiring a decorated officer -- who happened to be white -- as the city's top cop. In court, Frazer testified that Parks told him that "East St. Louis wasn't ready to hire a white police chief." The city then went ahead and hired a lesser-qualified black candidate over the recommendation from the fire and police commission, according to the suit.

In December 2006, Frazer and Murphy claim city officials repeatedly asked them to reconsider hiring two white officers. When they did not, the city quit paying the fire and police commission its monthly stipend of $250 and took away their meeting space and office supplies.

Eventually, on October 17, 2007, Parks and city manager Robert Betts, in coordination with the city council, voted to dissolve the three-person fire and police commission on which Frazer and Murphy served. The city then re-formed the commission that very same day, extending invites only to the third board member who'd attended just two meetings in 22 months before the commission was dissolved, according to attorney Kennedy.

"It's just horse manure," Kennedy, tells Daily RFT. "The action of the city toward my clients was disgusting. These are two people who've lived in East St. Louis for decades and were trying to improve their community. This is a blatant case of reverse discrimination on the part of the city. And my clients paid the price standing up against it."

Following a two-and-a-half-day trial that wrapped up Wednesday in federal court in Benton, Illinois, jurors found that Parks, Betts and the city conspired to violate Frazer and Murphy's civil rights by targeting them for their statutorily protected advocacy of the white officers. Jurors sided with they city on another count that specifically claimed city officials retaliated against the plaintiffs for exercising their First Amendment rights.

In the end, jurors awarded Frazer and Murphy $5,500 each in compensatory damages and $15,000 each in punitive damages. Attorney Kennedy notes that the punitive damages exceeded the $10,000 his clients requested.

"This was never about money," says Kennedy. "It was about restoring the names of Wyatt Frazer and Della Murphy. They're thrilled with the verdict and couldn't be happier."

Under federal law for civil rights suits, East St. Louis will have to pay Kennedy's attorney fees provided the verdict stands and the case is not appealed.

Michael Baxton Jr., the police chief the city hired over Frazer and Murphy's recommendation has since resigned. Kennedy tells Daily RFT that his clients wanted the city to hire Ron Grimming, an East St. Louis native whose father once owned a grocery store in town. Grimming went on to ascend the ranks of the Illinois State Police before being hired to lead the Florida Highway Patrol.

"He was willing to come out of retirement because he wanted to help his hometown," says Kennedy.

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18 comments
yoyis
yoyis

This is absolutely a blatant case of discrimination against whites. Money remuneration is not enough. Both Alvin Parks and Robert Betts should be fired immediately. They damage the image and the environment of East St. Louis.

Christopher
Christopher

East St. Louis has a Police Chief?

You certainly can't tell it has a Police Department - much less a Police Chief.

I was born there in 1957, when it was a good working class community.

Benjamin Bender
Benjamin Bender

I was a Volunteer Firefighter in Edwardsville and came to East St. Louis to take the test in 1993. I was told straight out by a Capt  on the department not to bother with the days testing as only blacks would be hired.  Later that year the same thing happened in Alton but this time it was the Chief who told me (and I could tell he very much regreted it). He was good friends with my chief and told me his hands were tied.

Finally in 1994 I tested at my own department. Maxed the physical and written. I had already been a firefighter there 3 years...been through the State fire academy (which cost the city alot of money) as well as training in 1. Single family dwelling firefighting, 2. Auto Extrication (jaws of life) and paid my own way through Paramedic school which took 3 years and about a grand.

In the end the city hired an 21 yo Africian American male who was a nice guy but had no training whatsoever and his only qualification was he was very healty and 3 years younger than me. The Chief, Assistant Chief and city alderman all told me they were in "a position where the all white department could be sued if they didnt hire someone of color".

They all knew it would take at least 3 years and tens of thousands of dollars before this guy could even be put in a shift....that is if he could pass all the testing, classes and become a Paramedic (all firemen are required to be paramedics in Edwardsville spending 1 of every 3 months manning the ambulance). Oh...I also had a college degree and the new guy had a GED.  I had waited 3 years doing that job for free....paying for my own training many times knowing that when a job came open I would have a fair shot at it.  I was 2nd on the list. I needed a paying job and couldent wait any longer.

So they hired him.....I quit and took a job at St Louis City Police. 1 year later the new guy quit ....he never did quite get over the stigma of being hired despite being the lesser candidate (you had to feel bad for the guy being put in that position).  They called me up and asked me to come back like nothing had happened. I said no thanks and they spent the next 5 years trying to fill that position with a series of candidates who had numerous problems from physical to mental to academic......wasting untold time and money (they had to pay a fireman overtime to fill that shift for 5 years...day in and day out).

They had a fully trained guy with a paid for turn out gear (fire suit, very expensive), years invested in training who got along well with the team ....ready to go...just sign here. In the end they only guy who applied and could pass the tests turned out to be white. A sad irony for me and the tax payers of Edwardsville.

I am a Democrat and believe it or not still in favor of affirmitive action. I just think perhaps in jobs dealing with life and death you go with the most qualified candidate regardless of color.

Feu d'enfer
Feu d'enfer

It used to be:Africa for the africans,Asia for the asians, White countries for everybody.

Now it's:Black cities for black people, white cities for everybody. 

Anti racism is just a codeword for anti white.

RhymesWithRight
RhymesWithRight

East St. Louis is much like Mos Eisley spaceport -- a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

SaguaroJack49
SaguaroJack49

America is lucky to have citizens of character in all colors. Mr Frazer, Mr Murphy, my hat is off to you. You've fought three battles here -- the first on the board, the second in the community, the third in the court -- for no gain to yourselves. Your example reminds people that all it takes to stop bad men is for good men to stand tall.

Russell
Russell

The problem is Black Liberation Theology which many black pastors have adopted.  Like all forms of Liberation Theology, it is a heresy, claiming that Jesus died to "identify with the oppressed" rather than to take away the sins of all mankind.  Heretics come under divine judgement.

Manny
Manny

Lol, even black people realize that things work better when a white guy is in charge.

G H
G H

There is NO SUCH THING AS REVERSE DISCRIMINATION!Discrimination is discrimination.

Nothing
Nothing

Seriously is there ant group in America more racist than the black community?

KittyLitterKing
KittyLitterKing

A solid win for the good guys in this mess.  However, someone should tell the attorney it's not "reverse discrimination." It's "discrimination," plain and simple.

Guest
Guest

Benjamin your story makes me feel very sad.  I also support AA when it is used appropriately.  It is not fair to either party when it is not.  Throwing an unqualified candidate into the ring based solely on his skin color is not fair to him, to you, or the taxpayers who ultimately fund his salary.  It is very sad today that most public jobs are out of reach for white american's because state, city, and government offices are so scared of being sued and having to pay out millions. 

Looptie
Looptie

You are a sick person to think, say or believe the comment you posted, have you ever gone to ESL and talked to some of the citizens HuH!  What about the many older people who live and worked there, paid taxes and are now being labeled as scum, would you appreciate someone placing that name on your parents or grandparents?  No I'm sure that you wouldn't so why do it to other upstanding Americans that chose a place like ESL to live long ago and are too disappointed in how the city is being run...

Looptie
Looptie

Nothing... your name fits your resonse "NOTHING" fact is, the Black community has always opened it's arms to Whites and any other group or race that wants to come live, hangout, worship or are in need.  I think you  have the Black community all wrong there brother...

RhymesWithRight
RhymesWithRight

1)  I've spent plenty of time in East St. Louis, so I know of what I speak.

2)  If you can't tell that a reference to Star Wars is intended to be tongue-in-cheek, you have a serious problem.

jagall
jagall

Sorry but you are wrong.  Facts are facts.

masheruser
masheruser

Fact is there is a segment of the African American population that is as Looptie describes.  You just have to open your eyes to see and embrace those instances.  SADLY, however, there are many many many others that are as Nothing describes.  Facts are facts. Enjoy.

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