Violence erupted in St. Louis, Missouri Friday after the acquittal of Jason Stockley, a white police officer who fatally shot a black man named Anthony Lamar Smith. The peaceful protest turned violent Friday when protesters started throwing bricks, causing broken windows and injuries among police officers. As of Sunday morning, 10 police officers had suffered injuries, including a broken jaw and a dislocated shoulder. Nick Cannon attended the protest:
— Anam Siddiq (@anamsiddiq) September 16, 2017
After a peaceful demonstration Saturday, lingering protesters threw gasoline and paint thinner, vandalizing at least five police cars and 23 businesses. Police officers attempted to control the crowd with tear gas and pepper-spray balls, but they eventually arrested 23 protesters as of Saturday. The violence angered Conservatives, including Pennsylvania state representative Aaron Bernstine:
If anyone EVER tries to stop my car on a highway with negative intentions… I will not stop under any conditions. https://t.co/Uf62WwhIUk
— Aaron Bernstine (@AaronBernstine) September 16, 2017
On Saturday, Bernstine added:
“Feel free to call my office and let me know if you think it is OK to refuse to stop if thugs try to stop me or my family on a highway.”
As the St. Louis American noted, “this case was about a white man who said he was going to kill a black man, did kill him 45 seconds later, and then was absolved of first-degree murder by another white man in a bench trial.”
In 2011, former police officer Jason Stockley, along with several other officers, were investigating a drug transaction that led to a high-speed chase with Anthony Lamar Smith. When police hit Smith’s car, officer Stockley fired at Smith’s vehicle five times, killing the 24-year-old man.
A handgun was found in Smith’s car after the shooting. The presence of Stockley’s DNA on the gun — and the absence of Smith’s DNA — indicated that Stockley planted the gun. Stockley was also caught on tape saying he was “going to kill this motherf‑‑‑er, don’t you know it.” Stockley was arrested, but St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson determined Friday that all charges would be dropped.
The case boiled down to two major factors:
Did Stockley plant the gun?
Did Stockley’s outburst indicate premeditation?
Judge Timothy Wilson determined that Stockley did not plant the revolver, because it was not visible in a bystander’s video of the incident. Wilson also noted that the absence of Smith’s DNA does not mean he didn’t touch the gun.
When addressing his outburst in court, Stockley said he could not remember the words he used or the context in which he used the words. In Stockley’s defense, Judge Wilson wrote, “People say all kinds of things in the heat of the moment or while in stressful situations, and whether Stockley’s statement … constituted a real threat of action or was a means of releasing tension has to be judged by his subsequent conduct.” Wilson later stated,
“Finally, the Court observes, based on its nearly thirty years on the bench, that an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly.”
The racial implications of Wilson’s final statement provide a concerning context. A powerful white judge is justifying the acquittal of another white man — a white police officer, that is — by prescribing Smith to an identity (urban heroin dealer) that he is unable to defend because Stockley shot before searching. Wilson’s statement is a sweeping generalization about the people in Smith’s community, and the violent demonstrations this weekend are an unsurprising reaction to Wilson’s pointed rhetoric.
Much of the anger felt by the protesters is rooted in Mayor Lyda Krewson’s plan to curb crime in St. Louis by generating more police officers. But as the St. Louis American suggests,
St. Louis needs more than just more police officers. We also need a police department that is better trained, better disciplined, and held more accountable…Community trust in the police is essential to not only a just society, but to a stable and functioning society…If we don’t make the police more accountable and more worthy of the trust of all people, we will never get out of this hell we are in.
Friday’s protest included a 1000-person march to Mayor Krewson’s house, where protesters threw rocks at the Mayor’s home and broke her windows. While the protesters’ anger should incite resistance and demonstration, violence should not fight violence. As the St. Louis American noted, “Any damage done to a police officer working a protest line also damages the movement intended to make the police more accountable. That’s your movement you are throwing bricks at.”
Cover image via politicususa0