WASHINGTON-DC: The National LGBTQ Task Force strongly condemns the ongoing police assaults of peaceful demonstrators in St. Louis as near daily protests continue following the verdict of not guilty in a first-degree murder case involving St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley. St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson announced his not guilty verdict on Friday, September 15 in Stockley's killing of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man. Like the community's response to the police officer's exoneration in the killing of Mike Brown, St. Louisans have protested the Stockley verdict in the streets, at the malls, and frequently within the area surrounding Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals.
"We stand with the peaceful protesters in St. Louis, who gather under the simple demand 'Stop Killing Us'," said Stacey Long Simmons, director of Advocacy and Action at the Task Force. "Hundreds of peaceful demonstrators ( including legal observers ) have been arrested, with multiple reports of physical brutality meted out by police in riot gear. People are being gassed with chemicals, thrown to the ground, cuffed so tightly their hands go numb, and then taken to jails to await release. The sad reality is that a movement to end police violence is met with more police violence. People must be allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights unharmed. This injustice must stop."
At a demonstration on September 17, a St. Louis photojournalist heard police officers chant "Whose streets? Our streets!" The chanting was also reported independently by the Associated Press. Later, Interim Police Chief Lawrence O'Toole said, "I'm proud to tell you…the police owned tonight." St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson expressed disapproval of the chants; Krewson and O'Toole have jointly called for a third-party investigation into the police handling of protests over the past two weeks.
Complaints against the police include:
An ACLU of Missouri lawsuit over mass arrests on September 17;
A St. Louis Post-Dispatch complaint regarding the arrest of a reporter covering the protests ( 9/17 );
Police orders to disperse, followed by use of a tactic called "kettling," where police corral protesters and do not allow them to disperse ( 9/17 );
The arrest and bloodying of a St. Louis police undercover officer ( 9/17 );
The arrest of an Air Force officer who had stepped outside his apartment building ( 9/17 );
At Galleria Mall on September 23, 22 peaceful protesters were arrested, including a shopper who had recently undergone a kidney transplant and was denied access to medication while in custody; the police action at that protest was described in the media as a "police riot";
On September 29, Reverend Darryl Gray was shoved to his knees, his glasses lost. When we asked to have his glasses, a police officer is reported to have stomped on the glasses.
Another protester was hit with a taser fired by police, a person who uses a wheelchair and was live streaming was sprayed with chemical agents, as was 5th Ward Democratic Committeeman Rasheen Aldridge.
Mel Braman, a member of the Creating Change Conference staff at the Task Force, said, "It is day 18 since the Stockley Verdict was dropped. My city and activist community are living in a war zone. Everywhere activists show up to protest, they are confronted by hundreds of police in riot gear, holding clubs and poised with chemical agents. I have been working Jail Support and have seen peaceful protesters emerge from the jails: burned from mace, teargas and pepper spray; wrists bruised and cut from handcuffs and zip ties that were too tight; welts from being beaten by clubs; bruised from being dragged on the ground. This movement seeks justice and freedom from the violence of police brutality, which we have seen felt every day since September 15.
"We ask you to form affinity actions in your communities. There are lives at stake here. Stand with us in solidarity," said Braman.