Tensions rising as protesters march through downtown St. Louis

The streets of downtown St. Louis on Friday were full of protestors and St. Louis area police officers trying to keep the peace.

Tensions between the two were tested as multiple protestors were pepper sprayed when they tried to block police vehicles and officers on bicycles.

Some protestors were handing out food and bottled water to help keep other marchers hydrated but some in the crowd used the bottled water as projectiles against police armed with riot shields.

The energy filled protests were a result of Friday morning’s announcement that former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley was found not guilty of first-degree murder or armed criminal action for the December 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith.

Sarah Martin, a St. Louis alderman of the 11th Ward, said she was disappointed with the decision that Stockley was not convicted.

“It’s incredibly disappointing. It certainly doesn’t restore any faith in the justice system,” Martin said. “I don’t know all of the details but watching the video, it sends a message that you don’t have to follow protocol, you can have your own weapon. It can appear to be premeditated and be okay.”

Stockley who now resides in Houston was originally charged in 2016 with first-degree murder and armed criminal action. Stockley chose for a bench trial, which took place Aug. 1 through Aug. 9.

Martin said while she didn’t agree with the verdict, the St. Louis police officers were doing a good job maintaining the peace after the announcement.

“It’s been incredibly peaceful. I think right now the message is that justice wasn’t served and that it’s okay to get out and protest in a peaceful manner and you don’t have to vandalize or be violent to get your message across out right now,” she said. “The streets are blocked off but it’s certainly not causing anyone any harm. Drivers can drive a couple blocks around.”

During the trial last month, Stockley said he feared for his life when he and his partner Brian Bianchi attempted to arrest Smith, who was then making a heroin deal in a Church’s parking lot. According to surveillance footage, when the two police officers attempted to arrest Smith, the suspect attempted to flee in his car while hitting their police vehicle.

According to surveillance footage, when the two police officers attempted to arrest Smith, the suspect attempted to flee while hitting their police vehicle. Stockley then fired seven shots at Smith’s vehicle as he drove away leading to a high-speed chase within the city.

During the chase through North St. Louis, Stockley is recorded as saying, “I’m going to kill this (expletive), don’t you know it.” When the officers reached Smith’s vehicle, Stockley fired the fatal shots into Smith after he believed the suspect was reaching for a firearm. Smith died at the scene.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, also argued the verdict and said it brought a dark cloud over the city of St. Louis.

“It took us five steps back when it comes to police and community relations, something that we’ve been trying to build upon since Ferguson,” Nasheed said. “It’s unfortunate, I think people have a right to outraged, I think people have the right to be angry because time and time again, justice does not prevail.”

Nasheed said she believed the police thus far have been doing a good job keeping the peace and hoped protestors and property remained safe within the city.

“St. Louis community, we are going to overcome and rise above what we’re seeing happening today but we have to begin look at how we’re going to rebuild police and community relations because right now it’s stagnant. This verdict has really taken us five-steps back.”

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