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Stunned, outraged in St. Louis: Cop's acquittal spawns protests

By Richard B. Muhammad and J.A. Salaam, Final Call Staffers | Last updated: Sep 20, 2017 - 2:31:12 PM

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Longtime activist Anthony Shahid (right) marches with other organizers andresidents in St. Louis.

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ST. LOUIS—Prosecutors insisted a White officer’s declaration, “We’re killing this m*****f*****,” during a high-speed chase was among proof the officer who shot Anthony Lamar Smith to death was a cold-blooded killer.

A judge decided otherwise, and angry protestors confronted police officers after the judge exonerated ex-cop Jason Stockley of first-degree murder charges. Whites and Blacks flooded downtown streets and surrounding neighborhoods. Day after day, protestors took to streets day and night. Early on arrests were reported but tensions remained high.

Activist-turned-city councilmember John Muhammad; Tory Russell, a leader of the anti-police brutality protests in nearby Ferguson, Mo.; and Bruce Franks, Missouri state representative; were among leaders of the Friday Sept. 15 Central West End protest after the verdict.

Demonstrators shut down major area shopping malls over the weekend, and a U2 concert was cancelled for security reasons. Protestors were very organized and used these strategies to disrupt economic activity in the city. They want the city and nearby areas to pay a financial price for social injustice.

“Last time in Ferguson we were very emotional and just protestors, but we are now activists,” said Amir Brandy of the Ferguson Peacekeepers.

Just three years ago, Ferguson, Mo., was the epicenter for demonstrations and birthplace of a national movement against police brutality after a White cop fatally shot 18-year-old Mike Brown to death. Many fear the city and surrounding area could fully explode this time. Some of St. Louis’ high income and traffic areas were completely shut down during four days of unrest.

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Marchers walk and hold signs in St. Louis during recent demonstrations stemming from a judge’s decision to exonerate former police officer in the shooting death of a Black man. Photos: Cartan X

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Nick Cannon, showing Hands Up Don’t Shoot, joined protestors during unrest in St. Louis along with Anthony Shahid, Senator Jamilah Nasheed and Alderman John C. Muhammad.

Entertainer Nick Cannon joined protestors in the business district of the popular Delmar U. City loop section. Streets were closed for miles as huge crowds walked and chanted, at times covering four lanes of traffic across and stretching for five city blocks.

Annie Smith, the mother of Anthony Lamar Smith, joined the Sept. 16 protests. There were thousands of White allies supporting Blacks. They blocked intersections while Blacks marched passed. Approximately 2,500 to 4,000 people occupied streets in front of the St. Louis Police headquarters for several hours on Sunday, Sept. 17. They marched to St. Louis University and shut down all roads within a seven-mile radius. At 7 a.m. Monday morning Sept. 18, there was a silent march to St. Louis city hall and city court building. The beat of a drum was the only sound heard as a couple hundred people marched.

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Annie Smith, mother of Anthony Lamar Smith with husband, at one point asked the people to stop and breath for her son.
Several students from area high schools walked out of classes Monday, Sept. 18 in a show of support and solidarity. About 20 clergy from various denominations joined young protesters and have vowed to not be divided.  “They divided us before from our youth, but we aren’t falling for that trick no more! said Dr. Linden Bowie of Zion Travelers Missionary Baptist Church.

Protest continued throughout the night back in the Delmar loop Monday. The atmosphere was like it was in Ferguson. Every night after the organizers would conclude, protests continued and total chaos, arrests and confrontation with police happened. Missouri’s governor deployed assistance from surrounding metropolitan police departments because of the magnitudes of protestors.

Thousands of people have chanted and marched through the city’s Central West End, amid the fancy restaurants and entertainment centers. The protest organizers ended the demonstrations peacefully, but were not able to stop or control some angry protestors who continued marching. A crowd gathered Sept. 15 in front of the St. Louis mayor’s home. Red paint and rocks were thrown at her house, breaking out her windows. The protestors demanded she come out. Militarized SWAT teams, hundreds of police in riot gear responded and trapped some people on the street. Some were injured and struck with rubber bullets and tear gas.  

The governor deployed the National Guard, who were camped on the outskirts of the city. City police and state troopers were out in force with troopers blocking access to highways to keep demonstrators off main thoroughfares.

 “Justice was not served and my son didn’t get justice,.I cannot be at peace,” said Annie Smith.

Six years ago, the 24-year-old Black man was chased by Officer Stockley and his partner Brian Bianchi. They allegedly saw Mr. Smith conducting a drug deal. The officers pulled their SUV behind Mr. Smith to block him in, and Off. Stockley rushed Mr. Smith’s vehicle with his personal AK-47. Mr. Smith backed up into that SUV and sped away. Off. Stockley shot at Mr. Smith’s car seven times with his department issued Beretta 9mm. He said the suspect’s car knocked him sideways.

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State Rep. Bruce Franks leading protest in St. Louis. Photos: J.A. Salaam

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Louis demonstration on the death of Anthiony Lamar Smith by police of cer Jason Stockley. Photos: Cartan X

The chase ended when Mr. Smith’s car was rammed in the back by the police cruiser. Off. Stockley quickly rushed the car and fired five close range shots, hitting Mr. Smith in the chest, killing him.

“I knew it was murder from the beginning,” said the slain man’s fiancé and mother of his daughter to the media. The gun police said they found in the car was too big to be hidden, she added.

Years passed in the demand for justice and the judge who heard the case—instead of a jury trial—postponed announcing his decision for five weeks. In January 2017 activist Anthony Shahid blew the whistle and demanded the case be reopened, through the Sunshine request.

Off. Stockley was charged with first-degree murder. He waived his right to a jury trial. The final decision was left in the hands of soon to be retiring St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson. Judge Wilson held a bench trial for two weeks.

Community leaders, protestors and the Smith family were very angry and in disbelief after the ruling. Protestors marched to police headquarters and called for an economic boycott of the city.

Off. Stockley pleaded not guilty, saying he acted in self-defense and believed the suspect had a gun in the car. Other officers on the scene said they didn’t see a gun on the front car seat.

Prosecutors said the cop went to his vehicle and rifled through a bag, came back, and planted a gun in the slain man’s vehicle. The silver revolver and the AK-47 only had Off. Stockley’s DNA on them. None of several different videos showed the revolver in the car. Defense lawyers insisted the gun was found by the officer, who fired after seeing the suspect with a weapon on the seat. Off. Stockley said his DNA was on the weapon because he found and unloaded the revolver.

“His DNA was the only one on the AK-47 and the hand gun found in the car. He went back into the police SUV four different times, he was the only one out of 10 other officers standing around the car that saw a gun on the seat,” said longtime activist Anthony Shahid. “He wasn’t in fear of his life.  He shot at the car seven times before he chased him.  Then shot him five times while he was sitting in his car.” 

“No outcome of this trial could ever bring back the life of Anthony Lamar Smith, a young man shot to death by Jason Stockley,” said Missouri State Senator Jamilah Nasheed, whose district includes St. Louis.

“I stand with the peaceful protestors, clergy and activists whose voices rise up, demanding that integrity and accountability be restored to our justice system before another Black life is taken too soon.”

Historically, police-involved shootings have ended favorable for the police officers even when there have been proof that the officers were at fault.

“From the history of what’s been going on with the police in St. Louis and all over the world, I felt like there will not be a change, we wouldn’t get a good verdict, he will get off, and it will be pushed under the rug just like we’ve seen more than 15 times all over the United States,” said Rasheed McCloud, who works as a chef.

“I knew it would not be a change, protesting won’t do anything. It seems like speaking up now doesn’t do anything. It’s all about the government and what they want, propaganda. It’s just that it seems like nothing else matters but what they want to force on us as a people. You don’t see any change, you see frustration, you see pain, and you see people getting money and shutting up, but nothing is being changed.”

“I feel the outcome of the trial was shady, some B.S., that’s what I feel like. It wasn’t straightforward. I knew he would get off, because it took too long to tell us,” added barber Emerick Daniels. “I think the people should respond hostile, because if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything, we been falling for too long.”

Authorities reported demonstrators smashed a police car’s windshield and that officers were struck by water bottles. Four officers were injured, said authorities. Officers used mace against protestors earlier in the day during the downtown protests and some arrests were made. Police were working 12-hour shifts.

“This court, in conscience, cannot say that the state has proven every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, or that the state has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense,” Judge Wilson wrote in his ruling. He said two experts testified that the lack of DNA did not mean Mr. Smith never touched the gun. The judge also said he believed it was likely Mr. Smith had a weapon because of his prior convictions. The judge did not consider any lesser charges against the ex-cop as prosecutors had asked. Prosecutors did not prove the shooting was not in self-defense, he said. The judge also said “people say all kinds of things in the heat of the moment or while in stressful situations” he continued based on him being on the bench for nearly 30 years.   And “that an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly,” he wrote, referring to a gun found in Smith’s car.

The AK-47 in possession of the officer was in violation of department policy and Mr. Stockley was allowed to retire from the police department. The finding of the DNA on the revolver led to a reopening of the case.

“What the country needs to know is, every single person in our country, we have a right to be mad,” said Al Watkins, an attorney for Mr. Smith’s fiancée, Christina Wilson, after the verdict. “We have a right to disagree. We have a right to express our opinion. We have a right to protest.”

“Exploit that right, don’t compromise it,” he said. “Stay peaceful.”

Off. Stockley left the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in August 2013. Later that year, the St. Louis police board settled a wrongful death suit with Mr. Smith’s fiancé and daughter for $900,000.

State Representative Bruce Franks offered a statement about the actions of protesters and their right to express themselves. “We do not condone it, but we will not be peaceful! There is a difference between non-violent and peaceful! We will disturb your peace, you will be uncomfortable! ... MLK said ‘rioting is the language of the unheard’ start listening to the hurt and pain! Non-violence is an option, but peace is not,” he said.

Protestors hold signs saying “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop Killing Us” during St.

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