Former St. Louis officer’s acquittal sparks protests
White officer was charged in shooting death of black man.
ST. LOUIS — Noisy demonstrators marched through two shopping malls in an upscale St. Louis suburb Saturday to protest the acquittal of a white former St. Louis officer in the shooting of a black man, resuming protests after a night of demonstrations that escalated into scattered acts of vandalism and violence.
A few hundred people walked through West County Center in Des Peres west of St. Louis, loudly chanting slogans such as “black lives matter” and “it is our duty to fight for our freedom.” A short time later, they demonstrated at Chesterfield Mall and at a festival featuring restaurant food from across the region. No arrests were reported.
The mall protests followed raucous daytime marches in downtown St. Louis and through the city’s posh Central West End area during the night. The protesters said they were making it clear that the entire region, not just predominantly black areas of St. Louis, should feel uncomfortable with the judge’s verdict Friday clearing ex-Officer Jason Stockley of first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith.
“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.
Susanna Prins, a 27-yearold white resident of University City, another St. Louis suburb, carried a sign reading, “White silence is violence.”
“Not saying or doing anything makes you complicit in the brutalization of our friends and neighbors,” Prins said.
Smith’s death is just one of several high-profile cases in recent years in which white officers have killed black suspects, 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 Stockley case, despite a request by NAACP St. Louis. Justice Department spokeswoman 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 affecting the state criminal case.
Republican Gov. Eric Greitens was highly critical during his 2016 campaign of former Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s management of the Ferguson protests, suggesting that with the right presence and leadership the violence could have been more quickly suppressed.
In advance of the Stockley verdict, Greitens met with Smith’s fiancée, 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 would not.
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 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 wielded batons and shields as they corralled demonstrators throughout the day and evening.
Demonstrators occasionally lobbed objects into the fortified line of officers, who used pepper spray to repel the crowd.
Tensions flared several times, including when protesters blocked a bus full of riot officers, damaged a police cruiser with rocks and broke a window and spattered red paint on the home of Mayor Lyda Krewson.
A mall employee shuts the doors to Macy’s department store as demonstrators march through the West County Mall protesting the acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley.