Riot police in St. Louis, Missouri have arrested over 80 violent protesters amid the third straight day of protests in the Midwestern US city over the acquittal of a white ex-police officer in a 2011 shooting death of a black suspect.
Protests began peacefully Friday after St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson found 36 year old former police officer Jason Stockley not guilty of the first degree murder of 24-year-old Lamar Smith, who was shot five times and died from his injuries following a police pursuit on December 20, 2011.
Violence escalated Saturday as demonstrations turned into riots, with agitators engaging in vandalism, and clashing with police. Thirty protesters were arrested Saturday night. Demonstrations continued Sunday. Protests again started off peacefully, but turned violent as night fell, when an estimated 100 protesters reported to have confronted police as they marched through the downtown area.
Police said they were forced to deploy more officers amid reports of “significant property damage” and “agitators breaking multiple windows.” Photos and videos from the scene showed damaged storefront displays from several local businesses, and broken ceramic flowerpots which lined the streets. Rioters threw rocks and sprayed unknown chemicals at police, resulting in “minor to moderate” injuries among police officers. The violent protesters defended their behavior, saying the police were the ones who provoked violence by deploying riot gear and armored vehicles to the area.
The St. Louis police Department published evidence of weapons, a mask, protective gear and an Anonymous flag confiscated from one of the rioters.
The rioters were warned to disperse, and said they would use tear gas and pepper spray and making arrests.
St. Louis mayor Lyda Krewson stressed at a media news conference late Sunday night that despite the rioting, “the vast majority of protesters are non-violent,” echoing the words of Missouri Democratic State representative Bruce Franks, who said those who engaged in violence were “not protesters,” but a separate group. Other protest organizers voiced their frustrations over the rioters making it difficult to spread their message of nonviolence.
During the peaceful protest during the daytime on Sunday, demonstrators gathered in front of the police headquarters, chanting “stop killing us,” “No justice, no peace,” and then continued marching through streets, holding up ‘Black Lives Matter’ signs and chanting the popular protest slogan “this is what democracy looks like.”
Excessive use of force by mostly white police officers against black suspects is a problem which has received widespread attention in the US since the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a northern suburb of St. Louis by police officer Darren Wilson during a convenience store robbery in which Brown was involved. Brown’s death and the court’s refusal to charge Wilson led to widespread protests, which would spread to other US cities after similar incidents. Many of these peaceful protests have been plagued by violence.