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St. Louis Police Criticized for Reaction to Protesters

St. Louis police patrolling as demonstrators march on Sunday night. (Jeff Roberson / AP)

Police officers in St. Louis are facing intense criticism for their treatment of protesters, who took to the streets last week after a former policeman was acquitted for fatally shooting a black man.

Jason Stockley, the ex-officer, was acquitted Friday by Judge Timothy Wilson of first-degree murder in the shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith. Shortly after the acquittal was announced, protesters took to the streets—and police followed.

On Saturday, protests continued. Video from the streets of St. Louis began to fill social media, and one that showed police marching over a woman quickly went viral:

The St. Louis Police Department later announced that the woman “failed to obey officers’ orders” and was charged with “interfering.” She was identified as Laura Jones, 63.

In the days since the verdict, hundreds have been arrested, with numerous protesters complaining that the police used excessive force in dealing with protesters.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports on Sunday nights’ protests:

Police used a technique called kettling on Sunday night to box in about 100 people at a busy downtown intersection and arrest them for failing to disperse.

It’s a tactic used to corral a group of people who fail to follow police orders. St. Louis police took the action after several windows were broken and concrete planters and trash cans overturned.

But some of those caught in the box made by rows of officers said police overstepped their bounds, using excessive force and chemical spray on people who were not protesting, including residents trying to get home and members of the media. As police closed in from all sides, they struck their batons in unison on the pavement, in a cadence march. …

St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Mike Faulk was caught in the kettle Sunday night. … The police lines moved forward, trapping dozens of people — protesters, journalists, area residents and observers alike. Multiple officers knocked Faulk down, he said, and pinned his limbs to the ground. A firm foot pushed his head into the pavement. Once he was subdued, he recalled, an officer squirted pepper spray in his face.

“It was the most brutal arrest I’ve ever experienced in my life,” activist Tony Rice told the Post-Dispatch. “I thought I was going to die.”

Additional controversial footage emerged after the Sunday night protests, including a video of SLPD officers chanting, “Whose Streets? Our Streets,” a mocking reference to the chants regularly used by marchers:

Now, in the wake of several days of protests, civil rights groups and other justice organizations are starting to speak up. The Ethical Order of Police, the Center for Policing Equity and the ACLU of Missouri all condemned the officers’ chanting. The ACLU added that the police “unlawfully detained and arrested people, used excessive force and unconstitutionally broke up a peaceful assembly of people” during Sunday night’s protests.

Despite the rising tensions, peaceful protests continued Monday evening:

The police department has routinely used Twitter to report on the property damage caused by an “unruly crowd.” The department even shared a photo of an officer confiscating “bottles with unknown chemicals used…against police,” but many Twitter users were quick to point out that the bottles in question contained apple cider vinegar, used to mitigate pepper spray injuries.

“[C]ould be that protesters, anticipating the use of pepper spray to control them (as it had been used the day before), decided to prepare and protect themselves by carrying simple home remedies like apple cider vinegar and milk[?]” The Root writer Anne Branigin asks. “It may just be that the citizens of St. Louis want to protect themselves against an overly aggressive police department, the kind that would trample a solitary elderly white woman for ‘interfering’ with them.”

And the St. Louis Police Department, like many other police forces in recent years, has been criticized for its high level of militarization while dealing with protesters:

St. Louis interim Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole, meanwhile, does not seem to regret police behavior over the past several days. “The police owned tonight,” he said during a Monday press conference. “We’re in control.”

Emma Niles
Assistant Editor
Emma Niles, an assistant editor at Truthdig, graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, with a degree in political science. She has worked for the National Women’s Law Center and Ms. Magazine.…
Emma Niles

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