ST. LOUIS—Dennis Shireff, a Black former St. Louis city police officer, made history in the state of Missouri, becoming the first Muslim chief of police in the state’s 200-year history. Chief Shireff was sworn into office earlier this year in the north county municipality of Northwoods.
“I came from the bottom all the way to the top,” he said. “I went through a lot of trials and tribulation with the police department. It wasn’t an easy road to travel. I was a young zealot and militant Black man in my early years on the department and didn’t see this day coming. I am grateful to be here as chief,” he said.
Chief Shireff said his outspokenness during his first 15-years on the St. Louis Police Department contributed to creating the hostile environment he experienced. He fought for the rights of officers and thought he would get support, “but many times I was alone in the fight,” he said, adding, “Even some of the brothers (referring to Black men) would not say anything in my defense. I’m telling you, the ‘Blue Wall of Silence’ is real.”
Things became so tense that several community leaders, including his friend and mentor Anthony Shahid, co-founder of the Tauheed Youth Group, agreed to help the young, fiery Shireff defuse the tension between him and the department.
“They felt the need to get me help, but I refused to lower my tone,” he reflected. “I couldn’t stop because of all those boot-licking uncle Toms on the department back then. I just didn’t like how weak they were. But when I spoke out against those injustices, I was persecuted,” he said, naming Brother Shahid, Reverend Phillip Duval, Zaki Baruti, president of Universal African Peoples Organization (UAPO), John Bourdaux of the NAACP and others who helped him. He was sworn in on July 27, 2021.
A wonderful counselor
Anthony Shahid sought counsel in various places to help his friend. He introduced Mr. Shireff to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.
The chief said Min. Farrakhan’s counsel helped him to gain control of his emotions when faced with adversity. The Minister told him a parable about a bull and a lion on a train track. As the train approached, the bull huffed and snorted and charged the train. The lion wisely stepped off the track and let the train pass before continuing on the track.
“He was telling me that while I’m in the field policing, I am by myself and my mission is to maintain and preserve myself to relay a message of hope and stability to our community, and not to put myself in harm’s way where I won’t be able to serve the people,” he said.
Although Mr. Shireff eventually was fired from the department and blackballed for years from working for any other police department in the municipality of St. Louis, he learned from his mistakes. He implemented a wiser approach, which enabled him to travel to different police departments teaching sensitivity training and community relations with officers. Chief Shireff said he has matured in faith, and Islam made him a better man.
In 2015, nearly 14 years after Mr. Shireff was dismissed from the police department, he attended the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, “Justice or Else,” in Washington, D.C. He recalls the Honorable Minister Farrakhan asking attendees to get 10,000 strong individuals in each city across America to help rebuild their communities and make them a safe and decent place to live.
“The words from Minister Farrakhan were like a command given to me personally. When the opportunity came for me to be appointed chief of police, I accepted the post knowing I was ready to do exactly what the Minister wanted,” he added.
“The Minister trained me in the art of diplomacy and now as chief, I have to be a shining example of how a person of color should represent our community. Period!” he emphasized.
After his firing, Mr. Shireff filed a discrimination lawsuit against the department. He lost the case because the courts said his lawsuit lacked enough evidence to substantiate his claims. But, Chief Shireff said he is winning with his new post and desires to teach the youth how to overcome the trials of life by staying focused on the future.
“I want our youth to not think just for today, but to think about 30 years down the road. What will your legacy be when you do right and follow what is right?” he asked. “What will it be like for me to sit in this chair as a chief and not do what is right and be forgotten or known just for the wrong things I have done?
“I just pray to All-Mighty God (Allah) that my righteousness overrules the bad things, and I can be different than before. The scripture says, ‘as a child I did childish things, but when I became a man, I put away those childish things.’ Now you see a man,” he said.