Missouri Governor Eric Greitens warned Sunday that his administration will deal harshly with those responsible for violent protests in St. Louis over the death of a black man.
A small band of protesters began breaking windows and throwing objects at police late Saturday during the second night of protests over the acquittal of a white police officer charged with murder in the man’s death. More demonstrations were expected later Sunday.
At least nine people were arrested during Saturday’s violence, which was focused in the upscale Delmar Loop area of the St. Louis suburb University City. The Loop is home to more than 100 specialty shops, including restaurants, galleries, clothing boutiques, gift shops and entertainment venues.
Police in riot gear quickly brought the disturbance under control, but not before demonstrators had left a path of broken glass.
“Saturday night, some criminals decided to pick up rocks and break windows,” Greitens said Sunday, vowing that those responsible would face felony charges. “They thought they’d get away with it. They were wrong. Our officers caught ‘em, cuffed ‘em, and threw ‘em in jail.
“These aren’t protestors, these are criminals,” Greitens said. “Criminals, listen up: you break a window, you’re going to be behind bars. It’s that simple.”
Earlier Saturday, several hundred people walked through two malls in suburban St. Louis. Protesters shouted “Black lives matter” and “It is our duty to fight for our freedom,” as they marched in a mostly peaceful demonstration.
The organizer of a regional food festival at one of the malls welcomed the protesters, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported. Mike Kociela told the demonstrators, “There should be no difference in how anybody is treated… I want to be part of the solution. I’m glad you are here. You are welcome.”
The band U2 announced Saturday morning that it was canceling a concert planned for Saturday night, in St. Louis, saying they did not believe city police would be able to adequately protect the event.
British singer Ed Sheeran’s representatives said they were concerned about the “safety of the fans” when they announced the cancellation of a Sunday concert.
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra canceled the Saturday “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” concert.
Friday’s protests began after the acquittal of Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer who had been charged with the fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith after a car chase in December 2011.
Prosecutors also alleged Stockley planted a gun on Smith’s body. Prosecutors said the gun had only Stockley’s DNA on it. During the car chase, Stockley can be heard on the video from his car saying that he was going to kill Smith, prosecutors said.
Police said 23 people were arrested and nine police were injured in skirmishes with protesters.
Mayor Lyda Krewson released a statement early Friday urging compassion, despite differing opinions on the acquittal. “We are all St. Louisans. We rise and fall together,” she said.
Protests started peacefully on Friday, with hundreds gathering in the streets of St. Louis holding signs and chanting “No justice, no peace.” Some made their way to police headquarters, calling for police resignations.
By the end of the night, demonstrators had broken a window and splashed paint on the mayor’s home, prompting police in riot gear to move the protesters away from the residence.
“We are saddened [about the acquittal], we are frustrated,” St. Louis Alderman John Collins-Muhammad told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “Until black people in this city get justice, until we get a seat at the table, there will be no peace in this city.”
Damone Smith, a 52-year-old electrician, told the newspaper, “I think the verdict is disgusting.”
“Time and time again, African-American men are killed by police and nobody is held accountable,” he said.
Racial tension in the area is not new. One of the suburbs of St. Louis is Ferguson, Missouri, where two weeks of protests began in August 2014 with the shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, by a white police officer.
That November, the decision not to indict the police officer sparked another week of protests, and the anniversary of the shooting in 2015 was the occasion of a third protest.
Brown’s father told a St. Louis television station after Friday’s verdict, “You all know this ain’t right and you all continue to do this to us. Like we don’t mean nothing, like we’re rats, trash, dogs in the streets… my people are tired of this.”
The incidents in Missouri were followed by police shootings and protests in a number of American cities, among them Baltimore, Maryland; Charlotte, North Carolina; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
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