In December 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri, former police officer Jason Stockley and partner Brian Bianchi attempted to arrest Anthony Lamar Smith during a suspected drug deal. Smith left in his car and the two officers pursued him. During the chase, Stockley is heard saying “going to kill this (expletive), don’t you know it.” The police crashed their SUV into Smith’s car and Stockley emerged, firing five shots into Smith’s car and killing him. On Friday, September 15th, Stockley was acquitted of the crime. He has left the police force and moved to Houston.
Since Friday, hundreds have gathered in St. Louis to protest his acquittal; it isn’t the first time that St. Louis has seen a black man killed by a white officer without apparent justifiability. The case raised numerous questions when a handgun was found in the car after the shooting, as prosecutors argued that Stockley’s DNA was found on the gun where Smith’s was not. The defense countered, positing that Bianchi had yelled “gun” and seen Smith holding a gun as he drove by. Numerous aspects of the events became debatable, but the court did not find “the officer’s conduct...consistent with the conduct of a person intentionally killing another unlawfully.”
The protests have unfolded quickly, and are largely comprised of daily, peaceful marches with chanting demonstrators. The nights, however, see incidents with police and violence. Ultimately, 123 people were arrested Sunday night when protests turned for the worse.
In earlier reports, police chief Lawrence O’Toole was quoted as saying “I’m proud to tell you the City of St. Louis is safe, and the police owned tonight.” He continued, “We’re in control. This is our city, and we’re going to protect it.” Photojournalist David Carson tweeted saying “Police just chanted ‘Whose streets, our streets,’ on Tucker Blvd after making arrests.” Jim Salter and Summer Ballentine of The Associated Press also reported on the chant being heard. The phrase is common amongst Black Lives Matters protesters, and if truly repeated by police in an effort to commandeer, it might buttress the claims that police incited the violence in St. Louis.
Sean Porter, released from jail Monday evening, claims “They threw us on the ground, sprayed us, hit us, everything. It’s tragic.” Police officers have claims of their own, arguing that demonstrators have sprayed them with unknown substances.
Since the mass arrest, protesters have crowded the jail in downtown St. Louis, chanting “Free Our People,” and expressing solidarity with those arrested. On Monday, over 150 protesters marched to city hall, while in Kirkwood, 100 high school students walked out and held a rally. It has been four nights of civil unrest, and with an acquittal in place for an incident that isn’t the first, it’s unforeseeable as to when it will end.