St. Louis refuses to be silenced about killer cops

SocialistWorker.org's Brian Bean and Komt, a St. Louis activist, explain the background to the eruption of daily protests after another cop got away with murder.

Protesters pour into the streets of St. Louis to demand justice for Anthony Lamar SmithProtesters pour into the streets of St. Louis to demand justice for Anthony Lamar Smith

THE STREETS of St. Louis have surged with daily protests of hundreds and more following the not-guilty verdict for ex-cop Jason Stockley who murdered Anthony Lamar Smith in December 2011.

With the Ferguson uprising that set off the Black Lives Matter movement still a recent memory for many participants, the protests have been distinguished by their courage and perseverance in the face of a militarized police response of violence, repression and arrogant bluster.

The city prepared for protests for weeks, and when a crowd of up to 2,000 people mobilized and marched after the announcement of the verdict September 15, police moved in quickly with tear gas and pepper spray, which they used indiscriminately on a crowd that showed St. Louis' full diversity.

Terrifying cell phone footage shows armored and armed police pushing an older white woman to the ground and trampling over her that first day. Another sickening image came after a night of protests, cop violence and arrests two days later: Strutting cops chanting "Whose streets, our streets" in a twisted parody of the protest slogan.

While it remains to be seen what will become of the first sizable wave of protests against police murder under the Trump presidency, we know already that the cops are emboldened by the green light given for brutality given by Trump and by Sessions as another component of their gloves-off approach to repression and hate.

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THE COMMUNITY anger around the verdict was fueled by obvious attempts to cover up Smith's murder and forestall justice--an attitude of impunity confirmed by the police violence that followed.

Smith, a 24-year-old Black resident of St. Louis and father of one, was murdered in December 2011, but no charges were filed until January 2016, over four years later. In a move echoed by Chicago's cover-up of the murder of Laquan McDonald, dash-cam video of the murdered was sealed from the public eye.

When Jason Stockley, who resigned from the police force after the killing, was finally charged with first-degree murder, his trial was presided over by Judge Timothy Wilson in literally the last trial of his career--which absolves him from any professional blowback for an unpopular verdict in favor of a killer cop.

The evidence against Stockley is damning. The pretense for police pursuing Smith was that they allegedly saw him engaged in a drug transaction, from which Smith fled. The cops sped after him recklessly, wildly firing bullets at his car.

Stockley can be heard on the dash-cam video clearly saying, "We're going to kill this motherfucker, don't you know it." When police caught up to Smith, Stockley did just that.

He approached the car where the injured Smith sat and fired four shots at point-blank range--the gun only six inches from the victim--followed by a fifth shot described by prosecutors as "a kill shot."

The degree to which Stockley was out for blood was underlined by the fact that he was also carrying--against the policy of his department--an AK-47 as a personal assault rifle.

It's clear that Stockley planned to kill Smith before he even approached, and that the cop executed Smith as he sat wounded in his car. Jason Stockley was on the hunt that day in December.

Police on the scene who searched the car immediately after the killing didn't find the gun that Stockley claimed to have seen Smith brandishing. A weapon was first found by Stockley--after, in another violation of police procedure, he went back to his vehicle and, as can be seen on dash-cam footage, rummaged through his duffle bag before returning to Smith's vehicle.

This gun that Stockley "found" did not have any of Smith's DNA on it--only Stockley's. The practice of police officers planting weapons and drugs on suspects is well-known, but rarely is the case so obvious a frame-up.

Yet despite all this, Judge Wilson handed Shockley a not-guilty verdict in a bench trial. Wilson's own racism is clearly evident in his 30-page opinion, where the judge states, for example, that "an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly" as a reason to believe Shockley's fear that Smith was armed.

This is the kind of racecraft cast upon Black people by police so their own racism--seeing all Black people allegedly in possession of drugs as also armed and dangerous--can be used to create the illusions necessary to claim self-defense when cops shoot down innocent Black folks.

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THE CITY of St. Louis prepared for the verdict for weeks, using the cops' newly acquired military gear to fortify the court building, police headquarters and other buildings. The media stoked fears of unrest and "violent" protest with the aim of scaring people off the street.

The people of St. Louis, however, were undeterred. From the minute that the not-guilty verdict was announced on September 15, they took to the streets to demonstrate against police violence and for justice.

That day, a crowd of nearly 2,000, led by clergy, marched down Tucker Boulevard through the downtown, near the old police station. As cops charged at them with riot shields, pepper spray and tear gas, an older white woman was trampled by a line of advancing cops. The crowd tried to defend itself by breaking up bricks and concrete manhole covers to toss at the charging police.

Protesters regrouped later that night in the University City area of the city and marched on the mayor's residence. Police again surrounded the protest, walking in a line across the lawns of residents before they attacked.

Brandi Huffman, a white mother of five from a St. Louis suburb who marched in that protest with two of her children, recalled that as demonstrators were singing the labor song "Which Side Are You On?" police opened fire with pepper spray pellets. Huffman was struck three times, in the leg, back and elbow, with the pellets bursting on contact with a chemical that burned the eyes and throat. This was followed by tear gas and another charge by armored police officers.

The nearby Central Reform Synagogue offered refuge, and hundreds of protesters hurried in to find shelter from the tear gas and violence. Police marched directly up to the windows of the building and issued orders over the radio that they were going to arrest all the people inside.

For two hours, protesters huddled in fear of what was going to happen while people tended to wounds and drank water, soothed by one protester who played classical music on a piano.

To try to flush out the protesters, police sprayed "skunk," a foul-smelling chemical agent, on the synagogue building. Ironically, this weapon purchased by the St. Louis police was developed and used by the Israeli Defense Force against Palestinian protesters. Nazis and right-wingers grotesquely rejoiced on Twitter with a #GasTheSynagogues hashtag.

In an interview, Brandi Huffman described the experience inside the synagogue in powerful terms:

I had a friend who was in the church in Charlottesville when [the Nazis] came with the tiki torches, and I heard the terror in her voice. But when I was there in the synagogue, I thought how similar this was--except it wasn't the KKK, but the police.

After two hours, the police allowed people to leave the synagogue.

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DURING THE next two days, the same pattern was repeated. Protesters would take the street and march for hours, until the cops in riot gear attacked, surrounding and "kettling" protesters and arresting whole groups.

At many of the protests, onlookers and bystanders found themselves rounded up, and people eating in restaurants with sidewalk seating reported being struck by police weapons. Residents where police imposed semi-marital law felt threatened to even leave their home--there were reports of people arrested as they walked their dogs.

The mentality of the police was most obvious on Sunday night when officers twistedly co-opted the protesters' "Whose streets, our streets" slogan after running off and arresting more demonstrators. Interim Police Chief sent the same message when he told the media: "We are in control now, this is our city."

After days of protests, the number of people arrested or detained by police numbers in the hundreds--the vast majority coming in mass arrests of people doing nothing more than demanding justice.

The unhinged behavior of the police reflects the agreement of Democratic officials like St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson with the Trump administration in the call for tougher, rougher policing.

This call inspires the increased aggression of police that is first expressed in senseless and unaccountable murders of people like Anthony Lamar Smith and then in the brutalization of people who are rightfully saddened and outraged by these murders.

Against this, we must continue to build protests against the racist killer cops and against the politicians--both Democratic and Republican--who support them to the hilt. We must do this in St. Louis and in every city where the police carry out their racist violence with impunity.