A small group of demonstrators gathered Sunday afternoon in downtown Belleville to protest the acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley.
But prior to the event’s start, Jessica Motsinger, a member of Indivisible IL 12, the regional chapter of the Indivisible political group, said the group got death threats posted to their public Facebook page. The threats appeared to have been deleted as of Sunday afternoon.
Motsinger, who recently moved to Swansea from Norfolk, Virginia, said when she moved to the St. Louis area, she was surprised to see how segregated it was. She said race has continued to be another way to divide people.
And the lack of conversation between people with different beliefs isn’t helping anything, she said.
“We’re on a different frequency, and we’re not adjusting to talk to each other,” Motsinger said.
The group gathered Sunday was peaceful. About 50 demonstrators were on hand, some of them holding “Black Lives Matter” signs. By the chants being yelled out as the group marched, it was clear some demonstrators had gone to the protests in St. Louis, as the chants were the same.
Not everyone at the Belleville Public Square protest was in favor of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was fatally shot by Stockley. Several people had signs calling liberals “nazis” and another had a sign saying “Beware unhinged dumocrats loose.”
One man’s beliefs caused a few shouting matches in the square. Jim Hettler, of Belleville, said it was shameful that people came out to protest the death of a heroin dealer.
“So many have lost lives to heroin,” Hettler said. “How dare they come out and excuse a drug dealer?”
Tyann Cherry, of Dupo, said even though the Stockely verdict occurred in St. Louis, it’s still important to protest in areas like Belleville in the metro-east.
“You can tell there is a need for it given the overwhelming response on the Belleville News-Democrat (Facebook) page,” she said. “It’s easy for those who are white to see equality as punishment.”
After an article about the event was posted on Facebook, hundreds of comments flooded the News-Democrat’s Facebook page as people clashed over how they felt about the protest.
Lisa Brennan, of Collinsville, and Ann Collins, of O’Fallon, said they went to the protest because it’s their moral duty. Brennan said her children were afraid a car would run into protesters like in Charlottesville, Virginia or other violence would occur.
“Our children were terrified that we were coming. They shouldn’t have to worry about that kind of thing,” Brennan said.
As protesters marched on the streets surrounding the Public Square, some passing cars honked and gave thumbs-up, while a few others yelled obscenities and insults out their windows.
Throughout most of the protest, no police were in the area. Near the end, however, about six officers stood to the side and watched protesters.
Protests have rocked St. Louis since Stockley was acquitted Sept. 15 of a murder charge in connection with the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith. Stockley is a 1998 graduate of Althoff Catholic High School.