Protests that rocked St. Louis over the weekend continued Monday in the city’s center as people filled the streets to express outrage at Friday’s not-guilty verdict of an ex-police officer accused of murdering an unarmed black man.
Missouri Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., who represents St. Louis, led the protest Monday morning, a silent march through downtown to City Hall. Franks had one message for his constituents and fellow elected officials: “You will stop killing us.”
Former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith after a short car chase in 2011, and prosecutors alleged he planted a gun in Smith’s car to justify the shooting. The judge in the case said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the killing was premeditated, even though a video of the shooting shows Stockley saying, “We’re killing this motherfucker.”
Local police have been on the streets in riot gear since protests began on Friday, and they have made more than 100 arrests, using tear gas to disperse the crowds after reportedly saying the protests were considered an unlawful assembly. On Sunday night reporters heard cops chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” — a cry that normally comes from protesters of police violence.
“I’m proud to tell you the city of St. Louis is safe and the police owned tonight,” said Interim Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole at a press conference Sunday night.
While protests have remained peaceful during the day, small groups of people have become violent after nightfall, causing minor vandalism of local buildings and public property, including a few small businesses and the mayor’s residence.
John Chasnoff with the local group Coalition Against Police Crime and Repression has been at the protests since Friday and said the protest movement is unified.
“We aren’t going to be divided into good protestors and bad protesters,” he said. “The expressions of anger come from years of frustration. If you want peace, look for justice.”
Chasnoff said cops seem to have learned some lessons from the unrest in nearby Ferguson in 2014, when a police officer shot and killed another unarmed black man, Mike Brown. Ferguson police officers drew criticism for responding to peaceful protesters in militarized tanks and gear.
“They’ve been more savvy of showing their militarized equipment so you don’t get the same photos,” he said. “The presence of the riot police exacerbate tensions. We’re seeing massive overreactions to events and lots of innocent people being caught up in arrests and mistreated along the way.”
On Friday, a local TV station caught helicopter footage of a woman being trampled by police in riot gear. She was arrested and charged with “interfering,” according to police. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter named Mike Faulk was among those arrested Sunday night.
More protests were planned for Monday evening.