The St. Louis Police Officers Association spent the days before an election bashing a candidate as a “communist” and declaring “BETTER DEAD THAN RED.”
Megan Green is a member St. Louis’s Board of Alderman, the city’s legislative body. An outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform and police accountability, Green is leading an underdog campaign to become president of the board on Tuesday. But her platform has brought her into conflict with the head of the Police Officers Association, who spent the weekend calling her a communist from the association’s official Facebook page.
“ELECT ANYONE BUT GREEN,” the St. Louis Police Officers Association wrote in a Saturday Facebook post, photoshopping Green’s face onto a picture of Chairman Mao. “Vote for one of the pro-police Democrats on the ballot; not Communist Cop-Hater Megan Green!”
Since Saturday, the Police Officers Association has authored six Facebook posts attacking Green, claiming that she is a communist or that “MEGAN GREEN = HATE SPEECH.” Only one, the post declaring “BETTER DEAD THAN RED,” has been deleted.
“Our posts are working!” the deleted post read. “In tru form, the commies are red with anger. Megan Green and her friends deny their communist leanings but remind us how dangerous they are as they call for our members to be punished for exercising free speech. Welcome to Stalingrad!”
Green is not a communist (although communists are well within their rights to run for office). But she’s been involved in pushes for police reform since Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in neighboring Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. She’s since introduced legislation to curb police brutality, and is currently suing St. Louis’s police department for what she says is a pattern of illegal tear gas use against protesters.
She said she’s used to conflict with Police Officers Association head Jeff Roorda. But the “better dead than red” post “hit me in the gut,” she told The Daily Beast.
“The first two memes they put out,” which photoshopped her onto pictures of men, “I took lightheartedly, but the third, a lot of folks sent it to me saying this was actually scary and it crossed a line from unprofessional to potentially trying to incite folks to violence. I think that meme in particularly definitely overstepped.”
Roorda denied that his declaration of “better dead than red” might incite violence against Green, whom he falsely accused of being a communist.
“Ms. Green's unfounded accusation that the patriotic American slogan 'better dead than red' is a threat of violence against communists/socialists like her is silly,” he told The Daily Beast in an email. “The slogan has been popular in the United States since the 30's and clearly means that the person who says it would rather be dead than be a communist.”
While the saying has been in sporadic use for decades (often during the McCarthy-era crackdown on suspected communists), many of its modern fans are on the far right. Portland, Oregon’s neo-fascists sell $25 “Better Dead Than Red” shirts that explicitly threaten death on the city’s anti-fascists. The far-right group “Anti-Communist Action” has used the phrase to glorify violence against anti-fascists in California. The group has plotted mass violence, sharing bomb-building instructions in group chats.
Green said individual police officers have recently come under fire for their social media posts.
“We do have ongoing problems of people within our police department posting pretty radicalized, right-wing talking points on social media,” she said. “I do think that is a problem, but I don’t know how widespread it is.”
Last year a St. Louis police lieutenant was reprimanded for a Facebook post in which complained that seeing white men work construction on a Mexican restaurant was a sign of something “going on in our country these days.”
But the Police Officers Association’s posts have chafed against some officers, Green said.
“I think [the posts] definitely resonate with the leadership with the Police Officers Association,” she said. “I will say, I’ve had a lot of rank-and-file members of the police department reach out to me and apologize, say how appalled they are by the union and by these tactics.”
In its now-deleted post, the association also claimed to have led a Facebook advertisement campaign against Green’s election.
“We’ve targeted our anti-communist ads to the city zip codes that supported police in the Prop P vote and it’s working,” the post read, referring to a new sales tax that contributes to police and firefighter pay. “Thank you to all of our pro-police friends! Keep sharing our posts.”
Roorda was less optimistic about the ad campaign in his email to The Daily Beast.
“We attempted to but our political posts were disapproved for paid boosting by FaceBook because they were considered to be ‘campaign ads,’” Roorda said. “Apparently, FaceBook doesn't allow individuals or organizations to pay for boosted ads until you go through their new authorization process.”