Anger and disappointment fueled thousands of people who took to the streets of St. Louis chanting “no justice, no peace” as they marched across the city in protest of another acquittal of a white police officer in the killing of a black man.
Protests went on all day Friday after a St. Louis judge found former police officer Jason Stockley not guilty of murder in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith in December 2011. Stockley had been charged with first-degree murder, but the judge’s ruling acquitted him on all charges. Initial protests were nonviolent, but as the night wore on, altercations took a more violent turn.
In some places, there were altercations between police and a few arrests have been reported. Police stated that after objects were thrown at police officers, they donned tactical gear including shields and helmets. There were multiple reports that some protesters had thrown water bottles at police, who responded with pepper spray, and a St. Louis television reporter was accosted by angry protesters on camera. One officer was hit with a brick thrown by a protester and was taken to a hospital with what police called a “serious injury.”
But the march itself was initially without incident, beginning in the middle of the Central West End and marching down Kingshighway Boulevard toward Interstate 64, through some of St. Louis’ more affluent neighborhoods. Many restaurants and other businesses in the Central West End had closed for the night, while others removed their patio furniture and other outdoor decorations, and city workers removed heavy metal trash cans from the area.
Police had largely cordoned off the area to allow the march to take place, but officers in tactical gear lined the on-ramps to the interstate and did not move.
When the march passed Barnes-Jewish Hospital, an ambulance came up with sirens going, and the protesters moved aside to allow the ambulance through. Many of the cars trapped in side streets and ramps by the march were honking in support, waving and giving thumbs-up to the marchers, as were some people hanging out of windows and businesses as the march went past. At at least one business, staffers were offering water to the marchers.
Many protesters appeared to be prepared for more extreme police action, wearing bandannas or gas masks and carrying bottles of milky liquid intended to treat tear gas and pepper spray. Still others wore bandannas or scarves over their faces, with a few wearing “V for Vendetta”-style masks seen at Occupy demonstrations in years past.
Using hashtags #StockleyProtests and #StockleyVerdict, commentary on Twitter flew ahead of the protests, which were populated by all demographics: black and white, young and old, city and suburb. The crowd seemed to grow larger as it marched, with chants of “hands up don’t shoot.” A second group of protesters met up with the first march, and the mass of protesters marched up past the hospitals on Kingshighway.
Tensions rose as the marchers reached the I-64 on-ramp and met up with the line of police. After a few moments of standoff, the march turned instead up a grassy hill toward a neighborhood, with more than a thousand people gathered beside the road.
At that point, a protester set fire to a small American flag. It was not the main flag that was being carried by the protest leaders — that flag was being carried upside down, which is considered a signal of dire distress or of civic protest. The second flag was set on fire, but just as quickly, another protester poured water on it to put it out, with a brief disagreement between the protesters.
The march then reversed itself, returning to the Central West End for a mass sit-in at the intersection of Euclid and Maryland, and a six-minute silent “die-in” in honor of six people who have been shot and killed by St. Louis police this year.
The march then proceeded up to the home of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson. Protesters stood outside her home and shouted at her to “Wake up!”
The St. Louis Police Department tweeted that protesters were breaking windows, and they were ordering the crowds to disperse. At last reports, altercations were beginning, with multiple loud cracks heard. It was not immediately clear what caused the sounds.
According to various news reports, four police officers were injured and 13 protesters arrested in Friday’s demonstrations. It was not known how many protesters were injured in earlier clashes with police.
Earlier at the courthouse, a percussion group led the chants of “no justice, no peace,” “I know that we will win” and “hey ho, hey ho, killer cops have got to go.” A protester wearing an Occupy mask waved a black and white version of the American flag printed with the names of black people who have been killed by police officers.
Courtney Kelsey and Taliba Strickland, of St. Louis, held a sign that read “Unarmed citizen — please don’t kill me.”
Kelsey said she had hoped Stockley would be the case that would “make an example.” Instead, she said, the city’s preparations with barricades and a heightened police presence showed her that they knew what the verdict would be.
“I’m out here for all the people who can’t be out here today, who are scared, who don’t understand the impact of what happened today,” Strickland said. “I want to support my people and support the cause.”
Only a few feet away was Pigeon O’Brien, of Brentwood, holding up signs reading “Heal my racist city” and “‘I’m gonna kill him’ + killing him = premeditated murder.”
She said she believed the verdict to be unfair and wrong. “I’m tired of the police killing black St. Louis,” O’Brien said. “We’re all St. Louisans, this is our city ... Our unofficial motto is, ‘I’m not racist, but ...’ and then they say something incredibly racist. Everybody needs to be part of the solution, everybody. Because everybody is part of the problem.”
Later protesters apparently clashed with police again, this time resulting in pepper spray and a cordon of police officers in tactical gear downtown, near the police academy. However, the number of protesters was small, and eventually the lines of police officers retreated to the academy.
Protests continued late into the night Friday.