Protests have again broken out in the city of St Louis after the acquittal of a white former police officer over the fatal shooting of a black man.
Hundreds marched for hours on Friday in mostly peaceful demonstrations until a broken window at the mayor’s home and escalating tensions led riot officers to fire tear gas to disperse the crowds. On Saturday evening, police were out in force as demonstrators again rallied.
Activists had for weeks threatened civil disobedience if Jason Stockley was not convicted for the 2011 death of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith.
That stirred fears of civil unrest and prompted the construction of barricades around police headquarters, the court where the trial was held and other potential protest sites.
Yesterday, shop owners swept up broken glass and boarded up storefront windows that were shattered overnight as they prepared for demonstrators to hit the streets again.
Saturday night’s clash between police and a few dozen protesters in the Delmar Loop area of University City, a suburb about ten miles west of St Louis near Washington University, resulted in the arrests of at least nine people.
Missouri governor Eric Greitens issued a warning on Facebook yesterday that anyone caught destroying property 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.
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 Centre mall. A group also demonstrated at another suburban shopping centre, the Chesterfield Mall, and at a regional food festival.
Organisers hoped to spread the impact of the protests beyond predominantly black districts to those that are mainly white.
The confrontation took place in an area known for concert venues, restaurants, shops and bars, and includes the Blueberry Hill club where rock legend Chuck Berry played for many years.
A peaceful march there earlier in the evening ended with organisers calling for people to leave. But a few dozen protesters refused to go. Police ordered them to disperse, saying the protest was illegal. Hundreds of police in riot gear eventually moved in with armoured vehicles.
Mr Smith’s death is just one of several high-profile US 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.
Mr Stockley wasn’t charged until May 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 Mr Smith.
Mr Stockley shot Mr Smith after he had fled from Mr Stockley and his partner, who were trying to arrest him for a suspected drug deal.
Mr Stockley, 36, testified that he felt he was in danger because he saw Mr Smith holding a revolver when Mr Smith backed his car toward the officers and sped away.
Prosecutors said Mr Stockley planted a gun in Mr Smith’s car after the shooting.
The officer’s DNA was on the weapon but Mr Smith’s was not. Dashcam video from Mr Stockley’s cruiser recorded him saying he was “going to kill this (expletive)”.
Less than a minute later, he shot Mr Smith five times.