Protests have been taking place in the wake of a not-guilty verdict delivered to former St. Louis cop Jason Stockley, who was charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011.
“This Court, in conscience, cannot say that the State has proven every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, or that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense,” St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson declared in his ruling.
The protests heated up Friday night with hundreds taking to the streets, prompting the National Guard to be on standby, and shutting down several businesses, schools and banks early. The crowd chanted “No justice, no peace!” and "If you kill our kids, we’ll kill your economy!"
Police forces tried to disperse the crowd and arrested 13 people for taking part in the demonstrations.
Officer Stockley had pleaded not guilty, saying he had acted in self defense during the December 2011 incident, while prosecutors had accused him of planting a gun on Smith to justify the shooting.
The revolver found at the scene only showed the officer’s DNA.
However, Wilson ruled that based on the Court’s “nearly thirty years on the bench … an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly,” concluding that Smith had been the owner of the firearm, and referencing the drug found in Smith’s car.
Regarding this quote, an activist notes, "because the dead man is the one who was actually on trial." https://t.co/bPf69bi0uI— Versha Sharma (@versharma) September 15, 2017
Harrowing footage of the incident, captured on both the police vehicle dashcam, as well as on a cellphone, played a decisive role in the trial that began August 1.
That footage also revealed that Stockley had told his partner, "We're killing this motherf***er”, during the incident that resulted in a police chase over a suspected case of drug dealing.
Protesters have gathered to demonstrate in the city soon after the verdict was announced Friday morning, blocking intersections and disrupting traffic before making their their way to police headquarters.
"What the country needs to know is, every single person in our country, we have a right to be mad," said Al Watkins, an attorney for Smith's fiancée, Christina Wilson, after the verdict. "We have a right to disagree. We have a right to express our opinion. We have a right to protest."
Hundreds in St. Louis streets shouting "No justice, no peace" after hearing the not guilty verdict in the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith. pic.twitter.com/XhSxfEtEML— teleSUR English (@telesurenglish) September 15, 2017
Protesters also demanded that police resign, while also calling for an economic boycott of St. Louis.
"Right now, I'm just going to be honest, I pray for my city, man," said Michael Brown, the father of Michael Brown, a young Black man who was shot and killed by a police officer in nearby Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
"Because my people are tired of this."
The city’s mayor, Lyda Krewson, also expressed dismay at the verdict, tweeting, “I am appalled at what happened to Anthony Lamar Smith, sobered by this outcome. Frustration, anger, hurt, pain, hope & love all intermingle.”
Numerous studies have revealed the disproportionate level that Black people are targeted and killed by police in the United States.
A February study based on data from 2015 published in Criminology & Public Policy found among the 990 fatal shootings that occurred that year, police were twice as likely to kill unarmed Black civilians as unarmed white civilians.
A recent Guardian investigation also found that in 2016, U.S. police killed Black people at a rate of 6.66 per 1 million people, compared to 2.9 per 1 million for their white counterparts.