St. Louis protests enter fourth day in wake of ex-cop’s acquittal

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Protesters took to the streets of downtown St. Louis on Monday after three nights of arrests and scuffles with police during demonstrations against the acquittal of a former police officer for killing a black man in 2011.

More than 80 people were arrested late Sunday, when police in riot gear used pepper spray and detained demonstrators who had defied orders to disperse following larger, peaceful protests. The violence evoked memories of riots following the 2014 shooting of a black teenager by a white officer in nearby Ferguson.

The protests followed a judge’s ruling Friday finding Jason Stockley, 36, not guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, 24.

However, on Monday some demonstrators in St. Louis vowed the protests would continue as 75 assembled downtown before the start of business.

“We are the system. We make up the system. That’s the new narrative. We will affect your peace. We will make you uncomfortable,” said Bruce Franks, a Ferguson activist who was elected to the state legislature.

The U.S. Department of Justice disclosed on Monday it had decided there was insufficient evidence to pursue federal civil rights charges against Stockley. That decision was made a year ago but not announced to avoid influencing the trial, the Department of Justice said in an email.

Also on Monday, about 100 students in one suburban St. Louis high school staged an hour-long walkout to protest the verdict, a Kirkwood school district spokeswoman said.

Throughout the weekend, protesters marched for miles around different sections of the city, from downtown to college districts to shopping malls, disrupting the city’s economic heart.

Dozens of events were canceled, including concerts by U2, Ed Sheeran and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

“We made racism very expensive this weekend,” said Tory Russell, one of several organizers of this weekend’s actions.

While most protests were peaceful, some turned violent at night with some people in the streets carrying guns, bats and hammers.

Police took a tougher stance toward arrests on Sunday. Officers at one point chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets,” commandeering a refrain used by protesters, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“We’re in control, this is our city and we’re going to protect it,” acting police commissioner Lawrence O‘Toole said on Monday.

Some shop owners in one neighborhood had cleaned up smashed windows on Sunday.

“Most of the businesses here were supportive of the peaceful protest. But you get a handful of bad apples who want to come around and destroy things and it puts a bad spin on what needed to be done,” said local artist Adell Blackmon, 59, who was painting over plywood covering up a guitar shop.

Reporting and writing by Chris Kenning in Chicago; Editing by Ben Klayman and Matthew Lewis

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