Protesters express outrage at Stockley not-guilty verdict, vow to continue

Sep 15, 2017
Originally published on September 28, 2017 6:05 pm

Updated at 1 a.m. with updates on number of officers injured — People protesting the not-guilty verdict in the Jason Stockley trial moved west out of downtown St. Louis on Friday night and into the Central West End, targeting Mayor Lyda Krewson's home.

Several hundred protesters started at Euclid and Maryland avenues before trying to shut down Interstate 64, but police blocked off all highway access ramps. By 9:45 p.m., some went to Krewson's house and threw rocks, which broke windows. Officers in riot gear showed up and the St. Louis Police Department tweeted that tear gas was used. 

St. Louis Interim Police Chief Lawrence O'Toole said in a video early Saturday that nine officers were injured during the day, including some that were hit by bricks. He said one officer had a broken jaw and one had a dislocated shoulder. O'Toole also said a Missouri Highway Patrol officer had been injured.

Also, windows at a public library branch and at least one restaurant were broken. Twenty-three people had been arrested as of early Saturday.

Gov. Eric Greitens tweeted about the officers' injuries: "That's not protest. That's a crime. We stand behind our officers. This violence won't be tolerated." And Krewson tweeted that "violence is unacceptable."

A couple hours before, Greitens held a news conference, saying police are committed to protecting the right for protesters to peacefully protest. Greitens also said the National Guard is standing by to aide police and are protecting firehouses and other critical infrastructure.

During the day

The protests began earlier in the day, minutes after St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson found former officer Stockley not guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 death of Anthony Lamar Smith. 

For a few hours, protesters roved downtown St. Louis, decrying the judge’s ruling and calling for changes in a criminal justice system they criticized as unjust. Some tried to make their way onto Interstates 64 and 44 to block traffic, but police kept them away.

Twice, police used pepper spray on protesters. Once was in mid-afternoon at Tucker Boulevard and Clark Avenue after people threw water bottles at a bus full of officers. The second came a few hours later outside of police headquarters, and officials asked the crowd to disperse.

By early evening, police had made 13 arrests. According to St. Louis police, four officers were assaulted, including one who received treatment for a hand injury.

Activists have promised days of protests, a statement that hasn't gone unnoticed by organizers of major city events. The St. Louis Symphony cancelled its movie tonight because the five police officers who typically staff the concerts were needed for the protests, according to symphony president and CEO Marie-Helen Bernard. The Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which was expected to attract nearly 4,000 people Saturday, also was cancelled and the annual Moonlight Ramble bike ride is postponed until next weekend. 

The protesters were united in their sense of outrage that, again, a white police officer who killed a black person is not going to prison.

“To say that it’s heartbreaking would be too much of an understatement,” said T.K. Benson, who lives in St. Louis County. “But this generation of black people need to wake up and realize that the system has proven time after time after time that it is against us when it comes to stuff like this.”

Protests to continue

The evening demonstration gave rise to a popular chant: "If you kill our kids, we kill your economy."
 
During the evening protest, Greenville, Illinois, resident John Morgan brought up the end of the procession. The 62-year-old heavy machinery operator held a Black Lives Matter sign.
 

“It’s terrible that I have to stand under this,” he said. “Do you have any idea what it’s like to have to explain your humanity?”

Saint Louis University bioelectrical engineering student Ameer Khan, 21, said that, as a Muslim, she had a “religious obligation” to come to the protest. The verdict, she said, was a “tipping point to bring all of these people out on the streets today. This has been going on for years and years, since slavery, since segregation and even after segregation.”

City officials have been been bracing for protests for several weeks. Metal barricades went up around the Carnahan Courthouse before Labor Day. Greitens signed an order Thursday that would allow him to easily mobilize the National Guard.

Krewson said she encourages protests because they are a “cornerstone of our democracy” but also said the city is prepared to take swift action to stop any unlawful behavior.  

Members of the clergy had warned the judge last week that “blood will be on your hands” if violent protests erupted following an acquittal. National, state and local elected officials issued statements Friday calling for peaceful protests.

Krewson sought to strike a chord with those upset by the verdict while also acknowledging different points of view. "I am appalled at what happened to Anthony Lamar Smith," the mayor said. "I am sobered by this outcome."

However, she added: "I recognize that we all have different experiences and backgrounds that that we all come to this with real feelings and experiences."

In contrast, U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, said flatly: “Justice has been cruelly denied for Anthony Lamar Smith’s family and this community. I stand in total solidarity with them in expressing my absolute outrage at this verdict.”

St. Louis Public Radio's Durrie Bouscaren, Willis Ryder-Arnold and Carolina Hidalgo contributed to this report.

Follow David on Twitter: @dpcazares

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