ST. LOUIS — Suburban St. Louis shop owners on Sunday swept up broken glass and boarded up storefront windows that were shattered overnight when a day of peaceful protests turned violent, as the city and its surrounding communities prepared for a third day of demonstrations.
Saturday night’s clash between police and a few dozen protesters in the Delmar Loop area of University City, a suburb about 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of St. Louis near Washington University, resulted in the arrests of at least nine people. At least half of the shops on one side of a two-block stretch of the popular nightlife district were broken by the time the area was cleared.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens issued a warning Sunday on Facebook that anyone caught destroying property would be held accountable and could face felony charges.
“Saturday night, some criminals decided to pick up rocks and break windows. They thought they’d get away with it. They were wrong. Our officers caught ’em, cuffed ’em, and threw ’em in jail,” the first-term Republican governor wrote.
The protests began Friday after a judge acquitted a white former St. Louis police officer, Jason Stockley, in the 2011 fatal shooting of a black drug suspect, 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith.
Saturday night’s violence capped a day of noisy but peaceful demonstrations at suburban shopping malls.
Protesters shouted slogans such as “black lives matter” and “it is our duty to fight for our freedom” as they marched through West County Center mall in the suburb of Des Peres, west of St. Louis. A group also demonstrated at another suburban shopping center, the Chesterfield Mall, and at a regional food festival.
Organizers hoped to spread the impact of the protests beyond predominantly black neighborhoods to those that are mainly white.
Saturday’s confrontation took place in an area known for concert venues, restaurants, shops and bars, and includes the Blueberry Hill club where rock legend Chuck Berry played for many years. There had been a peaceful march there earlier in the evening that ended with organizers calling for people to leave and reconvene Sunday afternoon.
But a few dozen protesters refused to go. Police ordered them to disperse, saying the protest was illegal. Hundreds of police in riot gear eventually moved in with armored vehicles. The demonstrators retreated down a street, breaking windows with trash cans and throwing objects at police.
Several protesters were taken away in handcuffs, including a man who was carried off upside down. At least one demonstrator was treated after he was hit with pepper spray.
Sam Thomas, who was helping his friend clean up the glass from the shattered windows of his clothing and accessories boutique, OSO, said he understood why people were angry. The U.S. justice system is broken and needs to be fixed, Thomas said.
“I’m not saying this is the right way to fix it,” he said of the damage.
“The window isn’t murdered. Nobody is going to have a funeral for the window. We can replace it.”
On Friday night, nearly three-dozen people were arrested and 11 police officers suffered injuries, including a broken jaw and dislocated shoulder. Five officers were taken to hospitals. Police said 10 businesses were damaged that night, and protesters broke a window and spattered red paint on the home of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson.
Smith’s death is just one of several high-profile U.S. cases in recent years in which a white officer killed a black suspect, including the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson that sparked months of angry and sometimes violent protests.
Stockley wasn’t charged until May of last year, which was three years after he left the force a moved to Houston and more than four years after his December 2011 confrontation with Smith.
Stockley shot Smith after Smith fled from Stockley and his partner, who were trying to arrest him for a suspected drug deal.
Stockley, 36, testified that he felt he was in danger because he saw Smith holding a silver revolver when Smith backed his car toward the officers and sped away.
Prosecutors said Stockley planted a gun in Smith’s car after the shooting. The officer’s DNA was on the weapon but Smith’s wasn’t. Dashcam video from Stockley’s cruiser recorded him saying he was “going to kill this (expletive).” Less than a minute later, he shot Smith five times.
Stockley’s lawyer dismissed the comment as “human emotions” during a dangerous pursuit. St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson, who said prosecutors didn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Stockley murdered Smith, said the statement could be ambiguous.