Protests in St. Louis, Missouri, sparked by the acquittal of a white police officer charged with murder in the death of a black man, escalated into acts of vandalism Friday night. Police say 23 people were arrested and nine police were injured in skirmishes with protesters.
Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer, had been charged with the fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith after a car chase in December 2011. Prosecutors also alleged Stockley planted a gun on Smith’s body. Prosecutors said the gun had only Stockley’s DNA on it.
Mayor Lyda Krewson released a statement early Friday urging compassion, despite differing opinions on the acquittal.
“We are all St. Louisans. We rise and fall together,” she said.
Protests turn violent
Protests started peacefully, with hundreds gathering in the streets of St. Louis holding signs and chanting “No justice, no peace.” Some made their way to police headquarters, calling for police resignations.
By the end of the night, demonstrators had broken a window and splashed paint on the mayor’s home, prompting police in riot gear to move the protesters away from the residence.
Officials said a group of demonstrators smashed the windshield of a police van. Some officers were hit by water bottles. Police officers were reportedly assaulted. TV journalists from the Associated Press and a local station also reported being harassed.
“We are saddened [about the acquittal], we are frustrated,” St. Louis Alderman John Collins-Muhammad told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “Until black people in this city get justice, until we get a seat at the table, there will be no peace in this city.”
Damone Smith, a 52-year-old electrician, told the newspaper, “I think the verdict is disgusting.” Smith said, “Time and time again, African American men are killed by police and nobody is held accountable.”
History of racial tension
Racial tension in the area is not new. One of the suburbs of St. Louis is Ferguson, Missouri, where two weeks of protests began in August 2014 with the shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, by a white police officer.
That November, the decision not to indict the police officer sparked another week of protests, and the anniversary of the shooting in 2015 was the occasion of a third protest.
Brown’s father told a St. Louis television station after Friday’s verdict, “You all know this ain’t right and you all continue to do this to us. Like we don’t mean nothing, like we’re rats, trash, dogs in the streets ... my people are tired of this.”
The 2014 incidents in Missouri were followed by police shootings and protests in a number of American cities, among them Baltimore, Maryland; Charlotte, North Carolina; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.