Despite 80 arrests so far, St. Louis activists are still protesting acquittal of killer cop

Photo of Despite 80 arrests so far, St. Louis activists are still protesting acquittal of killer cop

Scores of protesters are in the streets of downtown St. Louis again on Monday morning in a fourth consecutive day of mass demonstrations against the acquittal of former St. Louis Police Department officer Jason Stockley on Friday.

The group marching Monday is smaller than the crowds that protested over the weekend, when local reporters said about 1,000 people met for rallies, die-ins, and street marches each day. The weekday morning bloc is closer to 100 people, based on aerial footage from local news stations.

Police say they made 80 arrests on Sunday. The day’s march was angry but peaceful. Arrests did not begin until after dark, when some within a smaller remnant broke windows at a few downtown businesses.

While Chief Lawrence O’Toole insinuated that the evening arrests all stemmed directly from the property destruction, eyewitness reports from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch dispute that narrative.

Officers arrested about a half-dozen people right at the site of the window-smashing at approximately 8:00 p.m. on Sunday night, the paper reported. The other 70-plus arrests came three hours later when officers opted for a tactic known as “kettling,” in which skirmish lines of officers pen in an intersection and then arrest everyone caught up in the contained area. At least one Post-Dispatch reporter was among those kettled and arrested.

Sunday evening’s unrest and detentions came after cops took some provocative actions of their own. Multiple reporters witnessed a bloc of riot cops chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” at one point.

A police commander at the scene told a Post-Dispatch reporter the chanting was “not acceptable” and would be investigated. But Chief O’Toole seemed to join in the tribal spirit of the chant in a late-night press statement.

“The police own the night,” he said. “This is our city and we are going to protect it.”

Earlier, before sunset, an unmarked police vehicle backed up quickly through a crowd of protesters. The car did not hit anyone, but seemed to alarm those who hurried out of its path, some of whom reportedly threw objects at the car.

While kettling requires officers to maintain formations and spend a lot of time waiting and observing, at other moments the police were less disciplined and more aggressive. At one point, according to videos from a livestreaming citizen journalist who was also arrested in the kettling, a handful of officers broke from their colleagues’ formation to chase after protesters — firing less-lethal projectiles at the fleeing marchers as they went.

The St. Louis area is far from alone in maintaining a police force that behaves more like occupiers than community servants. A similar mix of city, county, and state officers responded to the far more combative days of outrage that followed the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Then, too, journalists were arrested alongside demonstrators.

The case that prompts the current unrest in St. Louis long predates Brown’s killing.

Stockley was accused of murder in the 2011 killing of Anthony Lamar Smith, though charges were not brought for years in part because the initial investigation found no reason to bring a case against the officer. Ultimately, prosecutors decided that Stockley had likely planted a handgun in Smith’s car to justify a premeditated decision to kill him during a high-speed car chase on the north side of town.

Stockley’s DNA was found on the gun he claimed Smith had been reaching for, but Smith’s was not. In the Friday ruling acquitting the ex-cop, Judge Timothy Wilson favored the police officer’s narrative of the chase and killing.

“Finally, the Court observes, based on its nearly thirty years on the bench, that an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly,” Wilson wrote.

Years before the case even came before Wilson, St. Louis paid out a nearly $1 million settlement to Smith’s daughter to resolve a wrongful death lawsuit.

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