Chemists define an explosion as “a sudden, violent change of potential energy to work, which transfers to its surroundings in the form of a rapidly moving rise in pressure called a blast wave or shock wave. The shock wave can cause substantial damage.”
I was there when Ferguson, Mo., exploded. When Officer Darren Wilson pumped six bullets into the body of Michael Brown Jr., the fires of rebellion that engulfed Ferguson had been lit for a long time, but the people I spoke with barely mentioned Mike Brown. They talked about what cops had done to them. How they had been treated unfairly.
A Department of Justice report confirmed a long history of systematic abuse by Ferguson’s police and entire city government. Mike Brown’s death was not a spark. It was kindling to a fire that had already been ignited by years of oppression and injustice. Ferguson’s civil unrest was both sudden and violent, but the potential energy was always there. It was bound to happen.
I was there when Baltimore exploded. The flames that reduced a CVS to ashes and made police cruisers targets of impromptu demolition derbies cannot be isolated as a reaction to the death of Freddie Gray. It is much larger than that. Police misconduct in the city was rampant long before cops reduced Freddie Gray’s body to “a bag of rocks.” B-more had been boiling for decades. It still is. The Baltimore uprisings were what happens when you turn up the heat and try to keep the lid on the pot. It was inevitable. Anyone could see it coming.
St. Louis has been ready to explode for a long time. If you listen closely, you can hear the sizzling of the fuse. Anyone paying attention can see that St. Louis is dangerously close to transforming its desperation into dynamite.
On Aug. 9, prosecutors and defense attorneys wrapped up their closing arguments in the trial of St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley. Stockley has been charged with the first-degree murder of Anthony Lamar Smith.
According to the Riverfront Times, on Dec. 20, 2011, Stockley attempted to stop Smith after a suspected drug transaction. Smith would not stop and a high-speed car chase ensued. The officer shot at Smith’s car during the chase and screamed, “I’m going to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it!” During the pursuit, the police SUV crashed, ending the chase.
After the crash, Stockley got out of his car wielding an AK-47 that he was carrying against the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s orders. Stockley walked up to Smith’s car and fired five times at point-blank range, killing Smith, true to his word.
No witness testified that they saw Smith with a weapon. After he killed Smith, Shockley miraculously found a .38 revolver in the car. After a forensic analysis, a lab could not find a single iota of Smith’s fingerprints or DNA on the weapon. They found only Officer Shockley’s DNA on the gun.
Even though he did not have any cuts or injuries and experts cannot figure out how Stockley’s DNA got on the gun he “found” in Smith’s car unless he had handled it before, Shockley claims that he did not plant the weapon. Stockley claims that he does not remember saying he was going to kill Smith. Stockley claims that he feared for his life.
Again, this happened in 2011. None of this is disputed by the prosecution or defense. Everything you just read happened on video.
Twenty-two days after the trial concluded, the citizens of St. Louis are still waiting for a verdict. There is no jury. The Stockley trial is a bench trial, meaning that one judge will make the decision. So what is taking so long? What is the judge waiting for?
Perhaps he heard that the city has already put up barricades and made plans for civil unrest. Maybe he heard that activists are planning “mass disruptions” if Stockley is found not guilty. He might have seen the reports that protesters plan to interrupt a Cardinals game. He probably caught wind that there are plans to shut down the entire business district when he heard people chanting, “Downtown, we gon’ shut it down!” Maybe he heard that clergy and activists are teaming up, and it is the clergy members who promise the protests won’t be nice.
“We’ve seen this movie before,” said Rev. Clinton Stancil of St. Louis’ Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church. “It’s happened over and over again, and nobody seems to care. The issue is, we are being hit in the head and people are telling us how to respond. We will no longer be dictated to on how we respond.”
The people are heated up, but this is not about one trial or one verdict. It is about the long history of St. Louis police officers brutalizing the city’s black population:
- It is about a judge’s April 2017 ruling that the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department “routinely acted contrary to the law,” ignoring citizens’ complaints of misconduct.
- This is about how St. Louis County Police covered up MetroLink security cameras, slept on the job and lied about their whereabouts for years, according to multiple investigations.
- They are upset over the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s discovery that the city secretly paid $4.7 million to victims of police misconduct in at least 44 cases since 2010.
- They’re mad about St. Louis Metropolitan Police Officer Thomas Carroll, who was sentenced to 52 months in prison for punching an arrestee, forcing his pistol into the man’s mouth and threatening to shoot the suspect, all while the suspect was handcuffed. This all took place inside the police station.
- They’re still fuming over the 2013 incident when a St. Louis police officer shot and killed Cary Ball Jr., an honor student with a 3.86 GPA.
I predict they will announce it on Friday. Fridays are what’s known in politics and journalism as “news dump day.” Especially tomorrow, the start of a holiday weekend. Journalists will head home. Media outlets pare down to skeleton crews. Television viewership and internet traffic go way down.
It’s why Donald Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio on a Friday. The Philando Castile verdict was announced on a Friday. They killed Jesus on a Friday.
If there is a shock wave in St. Louis tomorrow, it won’t be because of the Jason Stockley trial. People might blindly point to the singular incident as the spark, but they will be wrong. The fire was lit a long time ago.
They can’t keep the top on this boiling pot forever. They can’t keep deferring our dream. It will fester like a sore, but it will not dry up. It will stink like rotten meat. It might even sag like a heavy load ...
But—you can be sure—it always explodes.