ST LOUIS (Reuters) – Activists marched peacefully through a suburban St Louis-area shopping mall on Saturday, hours after police clashed with a crowd protesting the acquittal of a white former policeman accused of murdering a black man.
In a second day of demonstrations over a judge’s ruling in the 2011 case, hundreds of people snaked through the West County Center in the St Louis suburb of Des Peres, chanting “Shut it down” and waving fists in the air.
Police were out in force but did not tussle with protesters, unlike the previous night, when nine city officers and a state trooper were injured and at least 23 people were taken into custody.
“We don’t want to see property destruction or see people getting hurt,” said Elad Gross, a 29-year-old St Louis civil rights attorney, as activists gathered in a park before going to the mall. “But this is a protest that addresses injustices not only happening here in St Louis but around the country.”
Singer Ed Sheeran and rockers U2 cancelled concerts scheduled for Saturday night in St Louis, citing security concerns.
“Deeply saddened at what has happened in St Louis and having to cancel our show tonight,” U2 singer Bono said in a post on Instagram. “I found myself reading Dr King’s speech from the National Cathedral and asking myself is this 1968 or 2017?”
On Friday, Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson acquitted former St Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley, 36, of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, 24.
The verdict comes about three years after rioting broke out in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson when an unarmed black teenager was shot dead by a white police officer.
That incident touched off a nationwide soul-searching over law enforcement’s use of force against African-Americans, the mentally ill and other groups.
After Friday’s ruling, some 600 chanting protesters marched from the courthouse through downtown St Louis, some of them holding “Black Lives Matter” signs.
Later, some broke windows at a library and two restaurants and threw bricks and bottles at officers, who used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the throng. At one point, demonstrators threw rocks and paint at the home of St Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, police said.
Smith was shot five times in his car after attempting to elude Stockley and his partner, who had chased the suspect after an alleged drug deal, authorities said.
During the pursuit, Stockley could be heard saying on an internal police car video he was going to kill Smith, prosecutors said.
Stockley believed that Smith was armed, defence attorneys said, and a gun was found in the car. But prosecutors argued Stockley planted the weapon and the gun had only Stockley’s DNA on it.
Stockley, who left the St Louis Metropolitan Police Department in 2013 and was arrested last year, had waived his right to a jury trial, allowing the judge to decide.
This court, as a trier of fact, is simply not firmly convinced of defendant’s guilt,” Judge Wilson wrote in his ruling.