The debasement of society and the bankruptcy of our political leaders were fully on display in the once thriving and proud city of St Louis this past weekend.
With Ferguson, the false clarion call of “Hands Up Don’t Shoot,” and Black Lives Matter all still resonating in our memories, another deep societal wound was opened once again in the Show Me State.
The acquittal on Friday of a white cop on trial for murder for fatally shooting a black man in 2011 after a high-speed chase was immediately met with demonstrations and violence including attacks on police, property, and the media. That was predictable, but what was equally and sadly on display were incendiary comments by elected officials up and down the line – all of them Democrats – that appeared to add more fuel to the already volatile fire in the streets.
As the story reached national media prominence last week, the bare outlines of the 2011 case were repeated again and again, without much attention to the important context or additional details. The origins of the current story – trial, acquittal, and unrest – date back to December 20, 2011, when several St. Louis police officers reportedly observed a 24-year-old African-American, Anthony Lamar Smith, who had a long criminal record, engaged in a drug deal in a fast food restaurant parking lot.
When the cops attempted to question Smith, the suspect rammed one of the police cars with his sedan and then took off at high speed. The police gave chase and when Smith’s car was forced to a stop, Smith was approached by 31-year-old white cop Jason Stockley. Officer Stockley fatally shot Smith five times after, he said, Smith disobeyed his orders to put his hands up and instead appeared to reach for a gun. A handgun was found in Smith’s car after it was searched by Stockley.
A trial of Stockley for the first degree murder of Smith did not take place until this year – before a judge rather than a jury in a proceeding known as a bench trial. The 30-page decision issued by St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Timothy Wilson on September 15 found that the prosecution had not proven its case against officer Stockley (he has since left the St. Louis police department), and Stockley was acquitted. (The Daily Mail described Judge Wilson, 69, as “objective and well-respected by prosecutors and defense lawyers alike” who “has ruled both for and against police during his 28 years on the bench.”)
Immediately after Judge Wilson’s decision was announced, the protests that had been promised by Black Lives Matter and other “activist” groups began.
Also immediately, one politician after another weighed in. One of the first to comment was St. Louis’ liberal Democrat Mayor Lyda Krewson, whose home, notwithstanding her mealy mouthed comments attempting to placate the critics of the cop’s acquittal, was attacked and vandalized by “protesters” Friday night:
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said she was “appalled” at what happened to Smith and “sobered by this outcome. Frustration, anger, hurt, pain, hope and love all intermingle. I encourage St. Louisans to show each other compassion, to recognize that we all have different experiences and backgrounds and that we all come to this with real feelings and experiences.”
“Appalled” at the outcome of a careful, lengthy, and completely lawful judicial process by a respected judge that found the evidence for first degree murder lacking in what some observers said was a politically motivated prosecution of officer Stockley (who was forced to leave his job in 2013) in the first place.
Krewson wasn’t alone in throwing a sop to the mobs that would soon be taking to the city’s streets. Left wing Democrat U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, an African-American, represents St. Louis city. Clay gained national attention last January when he hung a painting depicting police officers as pigs in a public space in the U.S. Capitol building and then doubled down to defend his action when it was challenged by Republican lawmakers and in court. Last Friday after the verdict, Clay said:
Justice has been cruelly denied for Anthony Lamar Smith’s family and this community. I stand in total solidarity with them in expressing my absolute outrage at this verdict.
Clay went on to say:
Once again, another young black man dies at the hands of a police officer, with no consequences. . . We must demand changes in local law enforcement to ensure all lives are respected and honored. There is no coming back after a life is taken, only sadness. . . It is simply an honest statement of the ugly and very painful truth that in America, in 2017, some lives are still worth more than others.
Another black Democrat, Missouri State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, tweeted this comment:
No verdict could bring back Anthony Lamar Smith. But this one lays bare the integrity and accountability missing from our justice system.
…decision leaves me with more questions than answers…. The ultimate measure of how our community deals with this verdict is not how quickly we are able to get back to business, but whether we implement policy change addressing injustice, racism, and inequality. We can no longer prioritize short-term order over long-term justice.
None of these politicians – in the midst of a volatile situation with various agitators having planned and threatened to take action – encouraged people to respect the integrity of the judicial system that had rendered a verdict in the case.
And so it goes. One of the few more moderate comments that could be found was one by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who called the verdict “a difficult day” for the Smith family “and for all St. Louisans who sought a different outcome in this case. The response to this verdict will have a lasting impact not just on the community, but the country.” Blunt added that the right to protest is a protected right.
However, if this verdict is met with violence and destruction, it will do nothing but reignite the fear and anger that law enforcement and community leaders have worked tirelessly to address since Ferguson. If it is met with a renewed commitment to continuing the work that is needed to rebuild trust between law enforcement and those they serve, it will show the world how we, as Americans, move forward.
Various media accounts have documented the violent actions of demonstrators on each of the three days and nights since the verdict was announced last Friday morning. Among the reports: multiple businesses were damaged with their windows smashed; over a dozen police officers were injured, including one with a broken jaw caused by one of the many bricks thrown by demonstrators; the mayor’s house was attacked and vandalized; media representatives were threatened and attacked, including several reporting live on TV; and business activity and commerce took a hit when thousands of downtown workers were sent home on Friday for their own safety, several area malls were invaded on Saturday, and a Saturday night U2 concert was canceled. On Sunday, unrest and violence continued with “significant property damage.”
During the week ahead now, demonstrations are likely to continue. An article largely sympathetic to the demonstrators’ point of view, published in The Blaze on Sunday, noted:
People are angry, so the protests will likely continue into this week and maybe longer as demonstrators demand answers.
In terms of demanding answers, it might help to start with disseminating more widely to the public some important information about the original case in 2011 that has not been easy to find in media accounts. For example, on September 15 the AP reported on the “different pasts” of Officer Stockley and suspect Smith (one had to go to the Kansas City Star to find this report):
Stockley, now 36, graduated from a Catholic high school in nearby Belleville, Illinois, then went to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After graduation, he served in Iraq, where he was injured and awarded the Army Bronze Star. Stockley joined the St. Louis Police Department in 2007. He resigned in 2013, about two years after the shooting, and moved to Houston.
Smith had a 1-year-old daughter when he died. His family has not disclosed much about him. Court records show he had a criminal record that included convictions for unlawful possession of a firearm and drug distribution. At the time of the shooting, he was on probation for a theft charge related to a 2010 crime in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. In 2013, the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners reached a $900,000 settlement with Smith’s family, ending a wrongful-death lawsuit filed on behalf of Smith’s daughter.
More context like the above might have helped. As Fox News contributor and St. Louis resident Kevin Jackson said during a Fox News broadcast on Saturday:
The real tragedy is that Anthony Lamar Smith was dealing heroin and we act as if he’s Rosa Parks.
Essential reading to clarify the issues argued in court is an article/slideshow with illustrations titled “A breakdown of the judge’s ruling in Jason Stockley murder case” published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Saturday.
Also adding clarity were the comments of Peter Kinder, former Republican Lieutenant Governor of Missouri, who was interviewed briefly by Sean Hannity on Hannity’s Fox News show Friday evening:
Let’s place this  incident in context. This was three years before Ferguson. This is a 2011 case. Who was in office in 2011? Eric Holder was the Attorney General of the United States. He was followed by Loretta Lynch, both in the Obama administration. Aren’t we entitled to ask why they didn’t file civil rights charges in this case?
Kinder’s unanswered question is intriguing and it hangs in the air – or should – as the demonstrations continue. He continued on Hannity:
The Obama Justice Department was suing police departments all over the United States for alleged violations of civil rights, browbeating them into settlements. . . They did not file here. The Obama-appointed attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, Rich Callahan – he looked at this case and declined to prosecute.
Kinder also mentioned the local official who prosecuted the case against Jason Stockley, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. Quoted above, Gardner in 2016 successfully sought the elected position of Circuit Attorney on a platform of identity politics emphasizing a “lack of trust” between the “community” and the police, according to an archived version of her recently-deleted Web site. In June of this year, Gardner, as the Circuit Attorney, was criticized for hiring Kathib Waheed, described by the Post-Dispatch as “an activist who resigned from the St. Louis Police Board in 2001 because of a 1973 arrest for punching a police officer.”
Waheed was hired March 20 as a diversion manager. The job carries a $45,000 annual salary and a 30-hour weekly workload, Gardner said in a statement. The salary is paid through a U.S. Department of Justice grant….
Kansas City Police Department files show that Waheed was arrested on July 3, 1973, and charged with two counts of assaulting a police officer.
At the time, Waheed was a student at Rockhurst College and was using his birth name, Robert Foxworth Jr., before converting to Islam several years later.
This may seem like a footnote to a much larger story, but it’s the accumulation of such data points that help us to connect the dots in a controversial story like the fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith that continues to inflame many residents of St. Louis and, for that matter, people around the country and the mainstream media, as well.
Finally, able and willing now to speak on his own behalf following his acquittal, Jason Stockley gave an interview to the Post-Dispatch which made a five-minute video clip of it available on Sunday. It is well worth reading and watching – as is the Post-Dispatch’s comprehensive, post-acquittal article on the entire case.
Peter Chowka is a widely published author and journalist. He writes most frequently these days for American Thinker and The Hagmann Report. His Web site is AltMedNews.net. Follow Peter on Twitter. Peter’s latest wide-ranging one hour conversation with Joe Hagmann and Jon Robberson on The Hagmann Report on September 13 can be watched here. Peter is introduced at the one hour and five minute point in the program.