Jason Stockley, the former St. Louis cop charged with murder for killing a suspect at point-blank range, was found not guilty on Friday. The verdict was announced at 9:00 a.m. on September 15, 37 days after the trial closed and six years after Stockley killed Anthony Lamar Smith. Protests began immediately and don’t look as though they’ll end anytime soon.
There are events morning and night: People have staged die-ins, blocked intersections, and marched for miles every day in the sweltering Missouri heat. There is always someone with water or sandwiches or voter registration forms nearby, and a volunteer medic every few hundred feet. There are legal observers and a drum line, but no hint of reconciliation in the air.
Get TalkPoverty In Your Inbox
Annie Smith, the mother of Anthony Lamar Smith, gave a press conference on Friday at the site of her son’s death. “I didn’t get justice, so I can’t have any peace,” she said.
The weekend has been split, as it usually is in St. Louis, between massive demonstrations that are angry but peaceful and smaller nighttime protests that devolve into broken windows and tear gas. The property damage has been in a different section of the city every night, led by younger and angrier protesters, and there is tension between people who think breaking windows is violence and people who argue that it’s not as violent as killing people. The chant “you kill us, we kill your economy” is a two-edged sword, and in the daytime it sounds like thousands of people making commerce inconvenient and at night it sounds like dozens of people making commerce disappear.
On Sunday morning, people gathered in the Delmar Loop, which had seen the worst of the damage, to help clean up and board up storefronts and paint murals on the plywood. Then they went to protest. That’s how St. Louis has been since 2014 at least, when this cycle ingrained itself into the city.
By Sunday night a fully militarized police force had seized control again. They chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets!” after arresting dozens of people—media, legal observers, and protesters alike. An undercover police car reversed through a crowd marching through a street in downtown St. Louis on Sunday, after which a line of riot police protected the car while protesters de-escalated the situation.
A funny thing about new normals is how easily people accept them; most people seemed upset but not shocked by these incidents. They expected the not guilty verdict and were ready for it—and for the police response. Journalists have been arrested at St. Louis protests before, the most famous example being Wesley Lowery and Ryan Reilly while they worked from a Ferguson McDonald’s in 2014. And on Saturday, a woman named Pat Washington was hit by a truck during a protest, though her injuries were minor and she finished the march. Two other times this weekend I’ve seen cars simply keep driving through the crowd.
If you are looking for a 2017 dystopia, it’s in St. Louis. It is entirely usual and patently unacceptable for the police force to do many of the things they’ve been doing on video over the last few days: firing projectiles toward residents at random, macing people who came out of a bathroom, knocking over and kicking elderly women before arresting them on spurious charges, running cars into crowds, using strobe lights on crowds of protesters at night knowing there were epileptics in the area, and putting a synagogue under siege on Shabbat. It is messy and complex here. There are shades of 2014, with the same protesters demanding the same changes and the same authorities quelling the unrest. But is it also three years later, and as a nation we are debating whether it’s appropriate to have Sean Spicer on the Emmys or whether it’s okay for the president to tweet a video of himself hitting Hillary Clinton with a golf ball.
On Monday morning, protesters arrived downtown by 7:00 a.m. Protests are expected to continue into Tuesday evening. Police and news helicopters circle above, and people wonder aloud why they don’t just admit a cop was guilty for once instead of putting everyone through all this again.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series on the trial over the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith. Read part one.