Friday 27 April 2018

Peaceful protests resume in St Louis following overnight unrest

Violent protests took place following largely peaceful demonstrations during the day (AP)
Violent protests took place following largely peaceful demonstrations during the day (AP)

Demonstrators have linked arms and marched quietly through St Louis city centre in protest over the acquittal of a white former police officer in the killing of a black suspect, following another night of unrest which led to more than 80 arrests.

The latest action follows three days of peaceful protests and three nights of violence in the Missouri city which has been rocked since Friday, when a judge announced he found Jason Stockley not guilty over the 2011 death of Anthony Lamar Smith.

Hundreds of riot police mobilised on Sunday night, arresting more than 80 people and seizing weapons amid reports of property damage and vandalism.

The arrests came after demonstrators ignored orders to disperse, police said.

Interim Police Chief Lawrence O'Toole said at a news conference: "I'm proud to tell you the city of St Louis is safe and the police owned tonight."

Earlier on Sunday, more than 1,000 people had gathered at police headquarters then marched without trouble through St Louis city centre, the upmarket Central West End, and the trendy Delmar Loop area of nearby University City.

Protesters also marched through two shopping malls in a wealthy area of St Louis County.

By nightfall, most had gone home.

The 100 or so people who remained grew increasingly agitated as they marched back toward the central area. Along the way, they knocked over planters, broke windows at a few shops and hotels and scattered plastic chairs at an outdoor venue.

According to police, the demonstrators then sprayed bottles with an unknown substance on officers.

One officer suffered a leg injury and was taken to a hospital.

Soon afterwards, buses brought in additional officers in riot gear, with officers making arrests and seizing at least five weapons, according to Mr O'Toole.

Later, officers in riot gear gathered alongside a city boulevard chanting: "Whose street? Our street" - a common refrain used by the protesters - after clearing the street of demonstrators and onlookers.

"We're in control. This is our city and we're going to protect it," Mr O'Toole said.

Mayor Lyda Krewson said at the same news conference that "the days have been calm and the nights have been destructive" and that "destruction cannot be tolerated".

Early on Monday, more than 150 protesters marched arm-in-arm, some carrying signs, to City Hall.

Police turned traffic away as the marchers blocked a busy St Louis street during the rush hour crush.

The recent St Louis protests follow a pattern seen since the August 2014 killing of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson. The majority of demonstrators, though angry, are law-abiding. But as the night wears on, a subsection emerges, a different crowd more willing to confront police, sometimes to the point of clashes.

Protest organiser Anthony Bell said he understands why some act out. He said that while change can come through peaceful protests, such as those led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, years of oppression has caused some to turn violent.

"I do not say the (violent) demonstrators are wrong, but I believe peaceful demonstrations are the best," Mr Bell said.

State representative Bruce Franks, a Democrat who has participated in the peaceful protests, said those behind the violence "are not protesters".

AP

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