Pro­test­ers con­verge on two malls

Crowd an­gry at ac­quit­tal of ex-St. Louis of­fi­cer in fa­tal shoot­ing

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - JIM SALTER AND SUM­MER BALLENTINE

ST. LOUIS — Noisy demon­stra­tors marched through two malls in an up­scale area of subur­ban St. Louis on Satur­day to protest the ac­quit­tal of a white for­mer St. Louis of­fi­cer in the shoot­ing of a black man, pick­ing up after a night of mostly peace­ful demon­stra­tions that es­ca­lated into scat­tered acts of van­dal­ism and vi­o­lence.

A few hun­dred people walked through West County Cen­ter in Des Peres, an up­scale com­mu­nity west of St. Louis, loudly chant­ing slo­gans such as “black lives mat­ter” and “it is our duty to fight for our free­dom” to de­cry the judge’s ver­dict Fri­day clear­ing ex-St. Louis po­lice of­fi­cer Ja­son Stock­ley of first-de­gree mur­der in the 2011 shoot­ing death of An­thony La­mar Smith. A short time later, they demon­strated at Ch­ester­field Mall and at a fes­ti­val fea­tur­ing restau­rant food from across the re­gion. No ar­rests were re­ported at any of the demon­stra­tions.

The mall protests fol­lowed rau­cous day­time marches in down­town St. Louis and through the city’s posh Central West End area dur­ing the night. Pro­test­ers were mak­ing it clear, they said, that the en­tire re­gion, not just pre­dom­i­nantly black ar­eas of St. Louis, should feel un­com­fort­able with the ver­dict and its im­pact.

“I don’t think racism is go­ing to change in Amer­ica un­til people get un­com­fort­able,” said Kayla Reed of the St. Louis Ac­tion Coun­cil, a protest or­ga­nizer.

Smith’s death is just one of sev­eral high-pro­file U.S. cases in re­cent years in which a white of­fi­cer killed a black sus­pect, in­clud­ing the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in nearby Fer­gu­son that sparked months of an­gry and some­times vi­o­lent protests.

The U.S. De­part­ment of Jus­tice said Satur­day it will not open a new civil rights in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the case. The head of the NAACP St. Louis had asked for a federal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Jus­tice De­part­ment spokesman Lau­ren Ehrsam said the de­part­ment con­cluded in September 2016 that ev­i­dence did not sup­port pros­e­cu­tion un­der crim­i­nal civil rights statutes, but did not an­nounce it pub­licly un­til now to avoid im­pact­ing the state crim­i­nal case.

Repub­li­can Gov. Eric Gre­it­ens was highly crit­i­cal dur­ing his 2016 cam­paign of how for­mer Demo­cratic Gov. Jay Nixon man­aged the Fer­gu­son protests, sug­gest­ing that with the right pres­ence and lead­er­ship there could have been peace by the sec­ond night.

In ad­vance of the Stock­ley ver­dict, Gre­it­ens met with Smith’s fi­ancee, black state law­mak­ers, black St. Louis faith lead­ers and law en­force­ment in the hopes of pro­ject­ing a shared mes­sage that peace­ful protest would be tol­er­ated but vi­o­lence wouldn’t.

Be­fore the ver­dict, Gre­it­ens put the Na­tional Guard on standby, and some troops were de­ployed Fri­day night to guard fire sta­tions and other “crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture” that Gre­it­ens didn’t spec­ify. He was in St. Louis on Fri­day night and met with lo­cal law en­force­ment of­fi­cials.

Po­lice erected bar­ri­cades around their own head­quar­ters and the court­house and dozens of of­fi­cers in flak jack­ets and hel­mets who wielded ba­tons and shields cor­ralled demon­stra­tors through­out the day and evening.

Ten­sions flared sev­eral times, in­clud­ing when pro­test­ers blocked a bus full of riot of­fi­cers, dam­aged a po­lice cruiser with rocks and later broke a win­dow and spat­tered red paint on the home of Mayor Lyda Krew­son.

After a tense stand­off at the mayor’s home, po­lice used tear gas to clear the area.

Nearly three-dozen people were ar­rested Fri­day, po­lice said, mostly for fail­ure to dis­perse, re­sist­ing and in­ter­fer­ing.

Po­lice said 11 of­fi­cers were in­jured Fri­day, in­clud­ing a bro­ken jaw and dis­lo­cated shoul­der. Five of­fi­cers were taken to hos­pi­tals. Po­lice also said that 10 busi­nesses were dam­aged, mostly bro­ken win­dows.

Po­lice gen­er­ally stayed a step ahead of pro­test­ers on Fri­day, pre­vent­ing them from ef­forts to block an in­ter­state high­way or storm the city’s con­ven­tion cen­ter.

The civil dis­obe­di­ence fol­lowed the ac­quit­tal of Stock­ley for fa­tally shoot­ing Smith, 24, after the sus­pected drug dealer crashed his car fol­low­ing a chase.

Stock­ley tes­ti­fied that he saw Smith hold­ing a sil­ver re­volver as he sped away and felt he was in im­mi­nent dan­ger as he was ap­proach­ing the vehicle later.

Prose­cu­tors said Stock­ley planted a gun in Smith’s car after the shoot­ing — Stock­ley’s DNA was on the weapon but Smith’s wasn’t. Dash­board cam­era video from Stock­ley’s cruiser cap­tured him say­ing he was “go­ing to kill this [ex­ple­tive], don’t you know it.” Less than a minute later, he shot Smith five times.

Stock­ley’s lawyer dis­missed the com­ment as “hu­man emo­tions” ut­tered dur­ing a dan­ger­ous pur­suit and the judge said it could be am­bigu­ous.

St. Louis Cir­cuit Judge Ti­mothy Wil­son said prose­cu­tors didn’t prove be­yond a rea­son­able doubt that Stock­ley mur­dered Smith or that the of­fi­cer didn’t act in self-de­fense.

In an in­ter­view with the St. Louis Post-Dis­patch after the ver­dict, Stock­ley, 36, said he un­der­stands how video of the shoot­ing looks bad, but that he did noth­ing wrong.

“I can feel for and I un­der­stand what the fam­ily is go­ing through, and I know ev­ery­one wants some­one to blame, but I’m just not the guy,” said Stock­ley, who left St. Louis’ po­lice force in 2013 and moved to Hous­ton.

“I don’t think racism is go­ing to change in Amer­ica un­til people get un­com­fort­able.” — Kayla Reed, St. Louis Ac­tion Coun­cil


A fam­ily leaves the West County Cen­ter in Des Peres, Mo., on Satur­day as po­lice guard the en­trance after hun­dreds of people marched inside the mall in protest against the ac­quit­tal of for­mer St. Louis po­lice of­fi­cer Ja­son Stock­ley.

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