Mostly peaceful demonstrations followed a not-guilty verdict in the murder trial of a white former police officer who shot and killed a black motorist
This article titled “Police arrest 32 protesters in St Louis after acquittal of Jason Stockley” was written by Amanda Holpuch in New York, for theguardian.com on Saturday 16th September 2017 14.54 UTC
St Louis police said 32 people had been arrested during demonstrations against the acquittal of a former police officer, who had been charged with murder in the 2011 fatal shooting of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith.
Ten law enforcement officers were injured in the mostly peaceful protests, which began after the not-guilty verdict was handed down by circuit judge Timothy Wilson on Friday morning.
The demonstrations quieted early Saturday morning, having taken place in different parts of the city, including outside the home of mayor Lyda Krewson. At one point, the crowd around her home swelled to about 1,000 people, including some who pelted the home with red paint and broke at least two windows.
Police distinguished between peaceful protesters and agitators in their description of the events, and said people damaging property “distract from the mission of peaceful protestors”.
Ahead of the verdict on Friday, activists had warned that a not-guilty verdict for the former police officer, Jason Stockley, would result in acts of civil disobedience.
On Friday night, a line of police in riot gear approached protesters who would not retreat, knocking down one woman in a scene captured by local television helicopter. Officers pepper-sprayed the remaining, standing protestors as the woman remained on the ground, until she was cuffed and led away.
Police said in a Tweet on Saturday afternoon that the woman “failed to obey officers’ orders & was charged with ‘Interfering’”.
Some protesters became frustrated with a longtime local television reporter, Dan Gray, and threw water bottles at him and his photographer, Tauna Price. Footage of the interaction shows a group of other protesters intervening to help protect the journalists and escort them to a more safe location. “I understand their frustration, I understand their anger,” Gray said. “Perhaps they needed someone to vent it to.”
A series of protests were scheduled for the weekend and on Saturday morning, in the suburb of University City, demonstrators gathered at a local park. Demonstrators also filled local shopping centers.
Stockley, who now lives in Houston, said on Friday he felt “like a burden has been lifted”.
“The taking of someone’s life is the most significant thing one can do, and it’s not done lightly,” Stockley told the St Louis Post-Dispatch.
“My main concern now is for the first responders, the people just trying to go to work and the protesters,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to be hurt in any way over this.”
In a 30-page ruling, Judge Wilson said Stockley was not guilty of murder because the prosecution failed to prove the officer was not acting in self-defense.
The shooting occurred in 2011 after Stockley and his partner attempted to corner Smith’s vehicle in a fast-food restaurant parking lot, believing they had witnessed a drug deal.
Smith backed into the police vehicle twice to evade the officers, who said they saw a gun in the man’s vehicle. Stockley fired seven shots at Smith’s car as he drove away, prompting a car chase.
During the chase, video recorded Stockley saying: “Going to kill this (expletive) don’t you know it”. The judge said on Friday that the statement was taken out of context.
The officers eventually forced Smith’s vehicle to stop and Stockley shot Smith after approaching his vehicle.
Prosecutors accused Stockley of planting a gun on the scene and said it was suspect that the officer entered Smith’s vehicle after the shooting, potentially interfering with evidence. They also highlighted that Stockley’s DNA was on the gun, but not Smith’s, suggesting the man could have been unarmed.
The judge said there was no proof Stockley planted the gun.
Stockley told the Post-Dispatch on Friday, after the judge’s ruling, that he had wanted to find the gun as quickly as possible if Smith had thrown it out the window.
Stockley was suspended from the police department in 2013 for carrying an AK-47 pistol on-duty. He resigned shortly after and took a job with an oil company in Texas, where he lives today.
Smith’s mother, Annie Smith, said she was disappointed in the judge’s ruling.
“My soul is burning,” she said. “My heart is broken. I say, I ain’t get no justice, I could never be at peace.”
Police-involved shootings have sparked several high-profile protests in recent years, including in the St Louis area.
Three years before Stockley killed Smith, Darren Wilson, a white police officer, fatally shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, leading to weeks of demonstrations in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis. The shooting, which followed many other high-profile killings of black people by white officers, renewed discussions about police relations with minorities and prompted a federal civil rights investigation that found the Ferguson police department had discriminated against black citizens.
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