Despite an estimated 140 arrests over the past weekend, demonstrators in St. Louis aren't letting up in their protests against police violence. They have taken to the streets for the fourth consecutive day to denounce the not-guilty verdict given to a former officer for the 2011 fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, a 24-year-old Black man who was killed as he attempted to escape arrest.
Demonstrators gathered at the St. Louis City Hall early Monday to make their voices heard once again. Around 150 people locked arms and peacefully blocked a nearby intersection. At least two high schools were the scene of walkouts as hundreds of students calmly left class in an organized fashion to protest what they call police brutality and abuse.
Between 80 and over 100 people were arrested late Sunday as hundreds of police clad in crowd control armor confronted over 1,000 protesters with pepper spray. The police detained demonstrators whom they accused of failing to disperse following large protests by diverse crowds of community members. The community anger and police violence evoked memories of the melees that followed the 2014 shooting of Black teenager Michael Brown by a white officer in nearby Ferguson.
"I'm proud to tell you the city of St. Louis is safe and the police owned tonight," Interim Police Chief Lawrence O'Toole told reporters early Monday. The police have accused community members of behaving like vandals and allege that some demonstrators used bottles to spray officers with an unknown liquid. One one officer suffered a leg injury and was taken to hospital.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, however, has asked for an investigation into what it calls “unlawful police behavior” against Sunday's “largely peaceful and nonviolent” protests. It said this included “a police officer ramming a police car into a crowd” and officers chanting “whose streets, our streets” at protesters as they made arrests.
The ACLU described the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department's behavior toward community members as “unacceptable, unlawful and unconstitutional.” It said that the department's crowd control tactics included illegal arrests, excessive force and the dispersal of people engaged in constitutionally protected assembly.
"While many police officers act respectfully toward those they serve, we must acknowledge how regularly communities of color experience racial profiling and abuse from local law enforcement, including here in the St. Louis region," the ACLU statement concluded.
The protests in St. Louis followed a judge’s verdict on Friday that Iraq War veteran and former police officer, Jason Stockley, 36, was not guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 killing of Smith. Prosecutors claimed that Stockley announced his intent “to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it,” less than a minute before fatally shooting Smith five times at point-blank range. The prosecutors also accused the former officer of planting a gun in Smith's car. Stockley's DNA was on the weapon but Smith's wasn't.
The demonstrations are the latest expression of outrage at what protesters see as widespread impunity and the excessive use of force by local police against people of color and poor communities across the United States.