Before Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson found Police Officer Jason Stockley not guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, St. Louis activists and religious leaders warned that it could get ugly. They said they were going to “shut it down.”
They were right about the “ugly” part.
Since then, every corner of St. Louis has erupted in protests. In response, St. Louis’ law-enforcement community has engaged in a no-holds-barred effort to thwart the protests by any means necessary. Venturing outside the normal boundaries of policing and public safety, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has used questionable tactics to attack, criminalize and intimidate activists into silence and compliance.
The day the verdict was announced, officers from the Police Department arrested at least 33 demonstrators. In addition to charging them with vague crimes including “resisting,” failure to disperse” and “interfering,” the department publicly released the names and addresses of the protesters. Local media outlets did not share the information, so instead of letting it go, the Police Department posted the information on its Twitter account.
When citizens objected, the SLMPD defended its decision by responding that the names were a matter of public record, but offered no explanation for why it decided to tag the tweet with the trending hashtag #STLVerdict, making the tweet more visible.
The following nights, cops arrested over 80 more people while chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets.” According to the Washington Post, interim Chief Lawrence O’Toole said of the protesters, “These criminals that we’ve arrested should be held accountable and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We’re in control. This is our city and we’re going to protect it.”
Police have declared a semistate of martial law and have resorted to arresting normal citizens not involved in the protests. On Sunday, cops kicked Air Force Lt. Alex Nelson in the face, pepper-sprayed him and arrested him outside his home in St. Louis, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“It’s our street,” said the 27-year-old Air Force officer. “I hear the police say it was their street, but it’s literally my street. I have coffee on that street, and I own property on that street. We were not active protesters. We were looking into the neighborhood to observe events that were unfolding.”
A tourist in town for a U2 concert alleges that he was arrested when he walked outside his hotel, and a documentary filmmaker claims that he was knocked unconscious when officers kicked him, threw him to the pavement and bound him with zip ties. Drew Burbridge says he tried to inform officers he that was a member of the media, to no avail.
A “White Allies Only” protest on Saturday took place outside a Billy Joel concert with no arrests, but later the same day, a protester recorded this video of cops choking and attacking peaceful demonstrators at a St. Louis mall:
The practice of attacking the citizens they are sworn to protect and serve has backfired a few times, most notably when police told a man to put his hands in the air. When he didn’t respond quickly enough, police hit him two or three times, knocking him to the ground. When the man stood back up, his mouth was bloodied.
The “protester” who was assaulted was an undercover police officer.
Getty Images photographer Scott Olson was also arrested. He says he was taking photos when a cop ordered him on the ground. Olson says he complied but asked the cop about his $15,ooo equipment. Olson says the cop responded “Fuck your camera,” but another officer retrieved it and placed it around his neck. Olson says he has only been arrested one other time as a photographer:
In 2014, by a state trooper in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo.
One of the most frequent complaints is that officers often pounce on assembled protesters before they tell them to disperse and then charge the suspects with “failing to disperse.” The ACLU has filed a lawsuit in the wake of the protests, alleging “unlawful and unconstitutional” police conduct.