Riot police break up St Louis protest over officer’s acquittal

Police arrest a man as demonstrators march in response to a not guilty verdict in the trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, Sunday, September 17, 2017, in St. Louis. (Source: AP Photo) Top News

St Louis police in riot gear broke up a protest that turned rowdy on Sunday night with property damage including broken storefront windows, ordering protesters to disperse and making several arrests. Demonstrators had gathered in central St Louis for the third straight night to protest the acquittal of former police officer Jason Stockley, 36, of first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, 24.

As it had on Friday and Saturday nights, the protest started peacefully but turned disorderly after dark. Demonstrators broke windows and attempted to block a ramp to an interstate highway, police and witnesses said. Most police and protesters left the area after about two hours, though police said they were still ordering people to disperse.

The violence evoked memories of the riots following the 2014 shooting of a black teenager by a white officer in nearby Ferguson, Missouri. Police also reported confiscating weapons including handguns and recovered plastic spray bottles containing an unknown chemical that was on officers, who were then decontaminated, police said.

“This is no longer a peaceful protest,” St Louis police said on Twitter, adding that one officer was injured. “Police continue to make arrests after property damage in Downtown #STL,” another tweet said. Protesters broke large ceramic flowerpots and threw chunks of the ceramic at storefront windows. Sunday’s gathering was the largest of the three nights with more 1,000 protesters. Police in turn deployed their largest show of force.

Officers in riot gear marched through the streets. Others in large vehicles ordered people to leave over a loud speaker. “Do they think this will make us feel safe?” said Keisha Lee of Ferguson, shaking her head.

Police ordered a group of news photographers to stand up against a wall. One of them was Kenny Bahr who was working on assignment for Reuters. He posted the incident live on until he was placed in handcuffs when he turned off his video. The photographers were released after about 30 minutes.

Earlier in the evening, a handful of demonstrators threw bottles in response to a police officer making arrests, the first indication that the evening could turn violent.

As people converged on an unmarked police car holding one of the suspects, an officer drove through the crowd in reverse to escape, police said. No injuries were reported.

The protests began on Friday shortly after the acquittal on Friday, when 33 people were arrested and 10 officers injured, police said.

Violence flared anew on Saturday night when about 100 protesters, some holding bats or hammers, shattered windows and skirmished with police who were in riot gear, resulting in at least nine arrests.

More serious clashes broke out in 2014 in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis, following the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer who was not indicted.

The Ferguson protests gave rise to Black Lives Matter, a movement that has staged protests across the United States.

An informal group known as the Ferguson frontline has organized the protests, focusing on what it describes as institutional racism that has allowed police to be cleared of criminal wrongdoing in several shootings of unarmed black men.

“Windows can be replaced. Lives can’t,” said Missy Gunn, a member of Ferguson frontline and mother of three children including a college-age son. She said she feared for him every night.

Smith was shot in his car after Stockley and his partner chased him following what authorities said was a drug deal. Prosecutors argued that Stockley planted a weapon in Smith’s car, but the judge believed the gun belonged to Smith.

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