Po­lice ar­rest 32 pro­test­ers in St Louis af­ter ac­quit­tal of Ja­son Stock­ley

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Amanda Holpuch in New York

St Louis po­lice said 32 peo­ple had been ar­rested dur­ing demon­stra­tions against the ac­quit­tal of a former po­lice of­fi­cer, who had been charged with mur­der in the 2011 fa­tal shoot­ing of 24-year-old An­thony La­mar Smith.

Ten law en­force­ment of­fi­cers were in­jured in the mostly peace­ful protests, which be­gan af­ter the not-guilty ver­dict was handed down by cir­cuit judge Ti­mothy Wil­son on Fri­day morn­ing.

The demon­stra­tions qui­eted early Satur­day morn­ing, hav­ing taken place in dif­fer­ent parts of the city, in­clud­ing out­side the home of mayor Lyda Krew­son. At one point, the crowd around her home swelled to about 1,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing some who pelted the home with red paint and broke at least two win­dows.

Po­lice distin­guished be­tween peace­ful pro­test­ers and ag­i­ta­tors in their de­scrip­tion of the events, and said peo­ple dam­ag­ing prop­erty “dis­tract from the mis­sion of peace­ful pro­tes­tors”.

Ahead of the ver­dict on Fri­day, ac­tivists had warned that a not­guilty ver­dict for the former po­lice of­fi­cer, Ja­son Stock­ley, would re­sult in acts of civil dis­obe­di­ence.

On Fri­day night, a line of po­lice in riot gear ap­proached pro­test­ers who would not re­treat, knock­ing down one woman in a scene cap­tured by lo­cal tele­vi­sion he­li­copter. Of­fi­cers pep­per-sprayed the re­main­ing, stand­ing pro­tes­tors as the woman re­mained on the ground, un­til she was cuffed and led away.

Po­lice said in a Tweet on Satur­day af­ter­noon that the woman “failed to obey of­fi­cers’ or­ders amp; was charged with ‘In­ter­fer­ing’”.

Some pro­test­ers be­came frus­trated with a long­time lo­cal tele­vi­sion re­porter, Dan Gray, and threw water bot­tles at him and his pho­tog­ra­pher, Tauna Price. Footage of the in­ter­ac­tion shows a group of other pro­test­ers in­ter­ven­ing to help pro­tect the jour­nal­ists and es­cort them to a more safe lo­ca­tion. “I un­der­stand their frus­tra­tion, I un­der­stand their anger,” Gray said. “Per­haps they needed some­one to vent it to.”

A se­ries of protests were sched­uled for the week­end and on Satur­day morn­ing, in the sub­urb of Univer­sity City, demon­stra­tors gath­ered at a lo­cal park. Demon­stra­tors also filled lo­cal shop­ping cen­ters.

Stock­ley, who now lives in Hous­ton, said on Fri­day he felt “like a bur­den has been lifted”.

“The tak­ing of some­one’s life is the most sig­nif­i­cant thing one can do, and it’s not done lightly,” Stock­ley told the St Louis Post-Dis­patch.

“My main con­cern now is for the first re­spon­ders, the peo­ple just try­ing to go to work and the pro­test­ers,” he said. “I don’t want any­one to be hurt in any way over this.”

In a 30-page rul­ing, Judge Wil­son said Stock­ley was not guilty of mur­der be­cause the pros­e­cu­tion failed to prove the of­fi­cer was not act­ing in self-de­fense.

The shoot­ing oc­curred in 2011 af­ter Stock­ley and his part­ner at­tempted to cor­ner Smith’s ve­hi­cle in a fast-food res­tau­rant park­ing lot, be­liev­ing they had wit­nessed a drug deal.

Smith backed into the po­lice ve­hi­cle twice to evade the of­fi­cers, who said they saw a gun in the man’s ve­hi­cle. Stock­ley fired seven shots at Smith’s car as he drove away, prompt­ing a car chase.

Dur­ing the chase, video recorded Stock­ley say­ing: “Go­ing to kill this (ex­ple­tive) don’t you know it”. The judge said on Fri­day that the state­ment was taken out of con­text.

The of­fi­cers even­tu­ally forced Smith’s ve­hi­cle to stop and Stock­ley shot Smith af­ter ap­proach­ing his ve­hi­cle.

Prose­cu­tors ac­cused Stock­ley of plant­ing a gun on the scene and said it was sus­pect that the of­fi­cer en­tered Smith’s ve­hi­cle af­ter the shoot­ing, po­ten­tially in­ter­fer­ing with ev­i­dence. They also high­lighted that Stock­ley’s DNA was on the gun, but not Smith’s, sug­gest­ing the man could have been un­armed.

The judge said there was no proof Stock­ley planted the gun.

Stock­ley told the Post-Dis­patch on Fri­day, af­ter the judge’s rul­ing, that he had wanted to find the gun as quickly as pos­si­ble if Smith had thrown it out the win­dow.

Stock­ley was sus­pended from the po­lice de­part­ment in 2013 for car­ry­ing an AK-47 pis­tol on-duty. He re­signed shortly af­ter and took a job with an oil com­pany in Texas, where he lives to­day.

Smith’s mother, An­nie Smith, said she was dis­ap­pointed in the judge’s rul­ing.

“My soul is burn­ing,” she said. “My heart is bro­ken. I say, I ain’t get no jus­tice, I could never be at peace.”

Po­lice-in­volved shoot­ings have sparked sev­eral high-pro­file protests in re­cent years, in­clud­ing in the St Louis area.

Three years be­fore Stock­ley killed Smith, Dar­ren Wil­son, a white po­lice of­fi­cer,fa­tally shot un­armed 18-yearold Michael Brown, lead­ing to weeks of demon­stra­tions in Fer­gu­son, a sub­urb of St Louis. The shoot­ing, which fol­lowed many other high­pro­file killings of black peo­ple by white of­fi­cers, re­newed dis­cus­sions about po­lice re­la­tions with mi­nori­ties and prompted a fed­eral civil rights in­ves­ti­ga­tion that found the Fer­gu­son po­lice de­part­ment had dis­crim­i­nated against black cit­i­zens.

Pro­test­ers con­front po­lice dur­ing demon­stra­tions in St Louis, Mis­souri fol­low­ing the ac­quit­tal of a white former St. Louis po­lice of­fi­cer, who was charged with first-de­gree mur­der in the shoot­ing death of black mo­torist An­thony La­mar Smith in 2011. Pho­to­graph: Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

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