Each month, BORDC recognizes an inspiring grassroots activist working to restore civil liberties. This month, we are proud to honor US Army veteran and police accountability activist Mark Kustelski from St Louis.
Mark grew up in a military family in Nashville, Tennessee. His father served in Vietnam with the Marines, before Mark attended & graduated from West Point. He served overseas in the US Army for nearly 5 years, deeply committed to his oath to defend the US Constitution.
After resigning his commission and moving to St. Louis in the 1990s, Mark continued to feel a deep-seated commitment to the constitution that he pledged to defend as a servicemember, and discovered the opportunity to continue his service to the Constitution as a civilian grassroots activist. He said, “it’s a beautiful thing that we have a First Amendment to use,” and because he views people exercising their First Amendment rights as defending our freedoms no less than servicemembers, he emphasizes that “grassroots activists are patriots.”
Reflecting his keen awareness of constitutional principles, Mark noted that “police are government officials, agents of the government armed with guns,” and implores them to “take your oath seriously.” Since the summer of 2013 — over a year before Michael Brown’s untimely death drove police violence to the front of the national debate — Mark has worked to promote a civilian review board in St. Louis poised to offer independent oversight of human rights and civil rights violations by local police departments. His work on the St. Louis CRB proposal, which was introduced before the city’s Board of Aldermen this month, represents one of the most concrete policy impacts of the mobilizations across the country challenging impunity for police violence.
Mark takes very seriously the need to stand in solidarity with oppressed peoples, which he describes as the need to “actively seek their leadership” in working to address “systemic injustices that prevent everyone from enjoying equal freedom.” Reflecting his stark awareness of the underlying principles at stake in the police accountability movement, saying, “Killing an unthreatening person without due process is intolerable. We are not going to take it anymore.” Acting on his understanding that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Mark has particularly worked with Civilians Against Police Crimes and Repression, as well as the Organization for Black Struggle and Hands Up Coalition.
Finally, Mark offered some unique perspectives of CIA torture as a former U.S. Army officer. Noting that US service members are predictably vulnerable to torture techniques adopted and used by our own government, he stepped back to say, more fundamentally, that “we should be better than that. I view police violence in Ferguson and CIA torture as two sides of the same coin.”
BORDC is proud to recognize Mark Kustelski for his consistent and committed defense of the Bill of Rights, his local grassroots activism, and the compelling reminder he offers to servicemembers and military veterans concerned about eroding rights and liberties.