St. Louis area enters third day of demonstrations

A man yells at police in riot gear just before a crowd turned violent Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in University City, Mo. Earlier, protesters marched peacefully in response to a not guilty verdict in the trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS — Several hundred protesters were marching in downtown St. Louis near the city’s police headquarters Sunday evening, and later through the St. Louis University campus, beginning a third day of demonstrations over the acquittal of a white former police officer charged in the shooting death of a black suspect.

The crowd observed six minutes of silence in front of the police department building, then chanted “stop killing us” as officers looked on from headquarters windows. Afterward, they resumed the large-scale marching, chanting slogans such as “this is what democracy looks like.”

Protesters said Sunday that the six-minute silence symbolizes the six years between the death of Anthony Lamar Smith and the acquittal of the white former police officer who was charged in the black suspect’s shooting death. The verdict was issued Friday.

Authorities closed off several blocks around the police headquarters Sunday afternoon in anticipation of the demonstration, which followed two days of nonviolent marches and two nights of violent skirmishes.

Suburban St. Louis shop owners on Sunday swept up broken glass and boarded up storefront windows that were shattered overnight when a day of peaceful protests turned violent.

Saturday night’s clash between police and a few dozen protesters in the Delmar Loop area of University City, a suburb about 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of St. Louis near Washington University, resulted in the arrests of at least nine people. At least half of the shops on one side of a two-block stretch of the popular nightlife district were broken by the time the area was cleared.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens issued a warning Sunday on Facebook that anyone caught destroying property would be held accountable and could face felony charges.

“Saturday night, some criminals decided to pick up rocks and break windows. They thought they’d get away with it. They were wrong. Our officers caught ’em, cuffed ’em, and threw ’em in jail,” the first-term Republican governor wrote.

The protests began Friday after a judge acquitted former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley in the 2011 fatal shooting of Smith, 24.

Saturday night’s violence capped a day of noisy but peaceful demonstrations at suburban shopping malls.

Protesters shouted slogans such as “black lives matter” and “it is our duty to fight for our freedom” as they marched through West County Center mall in the suburb of Des Peres, west of St. Louis. A group also demonstrated at another suburban shopping center, the Chesterfield Mall, and at a regional food festival.

Organizers hoped to spread the impact of the protests beyond predominantly black neighborhoods to those that are mainly white.

Saturday’s confrontation took place in an area that includes the Blueberry Hill club where rock legend Chuck Berry played for many years. There had been a peaceful march in the area earlier in the evening that ended with organizers calling for people to leave and reconvene Sunday afternoon.

But a few dozen protesters refused to go. Police ordered them to disperse, saying the protest was illegal. Hundreds of officers in riot gear eventually moved in with armored vehicles. The demonstrators retreated down a street, breaking windows with trash cans and throwing objects at police.

Several protesters were taken away in handcuffs, including a man who was carried off upside down. At least one demonstrator was treated after he was hit with pepper spray.

Sam Thomas, who was helping his friend clean up the glass from the shattered windows of his clothing and accessories boutique, OSO, said he understood why people were angry. The U.S. justice system is broken and needs to be fixed, Thomas said.

“I’m not saying this is the right way to fix it,” he said of the damage. “The window isn’t murdered. Nobody is going to have a funeral for the window. We can replace it.”

On Friday night, nearly three-dozen people were arrested and 11 police officers suffered injuries, including a broken jaw and dislocated shoulder. Five officers were taken to hospitals. Police said 10 businesses were damaged that night, and protesters broke a window and spattered red paint on the home of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson.

Smith’s death is just one of several high-profile U.S. cases in recent years in which a white officer killed a black suspect, including the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson that sparked months of angry and sometimes violent protests.

Stockley wasn’t charged until May of last year, which was three years after he left the force and moved to Houston, and more than four years after his December 2011 confrontation with Smith.

Stockley shot Smith after Smith fled from the officer and his partner, who were trying to arrest him for a suspected drug deal.

Stockley, 36, testified that he felt he was in danger because he saw Smith holding a silver revolver when Smith backed his car toward the officers and sped away.

Prosecutors said Stockley planted a gun in Smith’s car after the shooting. The officer’s DNA was on the weapon but Smith’s wasn’t. Dashcam video from Stockley’s cruiser recorded him saying he was “going to kill this (expletive).” Less than a minute later, he shot Smith five times.

Stockley’s lawyer dismissed the comment as “human emotions” during a dangerous pursuit. St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson, who said prosecutors didn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Stockley murdered Smith, said the statement could be ambiguous.