The first sign it was not going to be a normal Monday was when I noticed a police officer wrapping part of Washington Square Park with yellow caution/crime scene tape. That’s the park area between St. Louis City Hall and shuttered Municipal Courts Building.
When I say wrapping, I mean a half-assed wrapping job, similar to when your brother buys your birthday gift at a gas station on the way to the party.
The yellow tape was wrapped around only half the park area. It was not secured to the trash can by Pierre Laclede’s statue. It blew off the can and danced in the wind. Its purpose was obviously not to keep people out.
Police officers chatted in the park. Some workers sat on benches mere feet from the tape and smoked cigarettes. If it was a crime scene, no one was working it.
There was a rumor that the white truck on the grass was a suspicious vehicle.
We were told to evacuate City Hall. We did not get far, not even to the corner wiener cart, before we were summoned back into the building.
A little later we were told that workers and customers on the west side of City Hall needed to move to the Rotunda.
There was a rumor about a suspicious package on the grounds. Bomb Threat!!!!!!!
Then it became suspicious packages, plural. Oddly, no one in the building seemed alarmed. There was talk it was a drill. The whole thing had a poorly written script feeling to it.
Then it got weird. City Hall was on lock down. No one could exit or enter. Customers were desperate to leave but told they could not. It made no sense. Why couldn’t people leave from the Tucker/12th Street side of City Hall?
As the locations of the suspicious items became known, most of us knew we had been had. The suspicious items were not bombs. The suspicious items were not suspicious. They were clothing and possessions of homeless persons who leave items around the shrubs and nooks of public buildings in Downtown. Their possessions include electric razors, toaster ovens, radios, etc., which they use by tapping into electrical outlets around public buildings and in public spaces. It is common knowledge.
Until March of this year, the main place for such storage was the shrubs around Soldiers Memorial. But it has been fenced off for renovation. Homeless persons have since been using shrubs around Municipal Courts Building and City Hall for storage. It is common knowledge.
But, it turns out, Police Chief Sam Dotson does not know about such things.
Today was a sad day in St. Louis disaster preparedness history. The Police Chief called out the bomb squad to blow up someone’s laundry. But, first, the bomb robot had to put on an embarrassing show.
Then it was all over. But it wasn’t. Someone forgot to call the police at City Hall and tell them we could leave. Perfect. Just perfect.
So we waited some more. Had to. We were Chief Dotson’s prisoners.
We were finally released at 12:10 pm. The police vehicles blocking traffic at Market and Tucker, however, remained another ten minutes because no one had yet told them it was all over.
Chief Dotson held customers prisoner at City Hall in order to blow up the possessions of someone who had nothing else. That ranks right up there with 7th Ward Alderman Jack Coatar wanting to criminalize the feeding of homeless persons.
I hope Chief Dotson has learned a lesson here. If not, there is, unfortunately, plenty of laundry hidden around shrubs Downtown for him to blow up every day.
— Marie Ceselski, 7th Ward Democratic Committeewoman