ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – A largely peaceful protest in St. Louis of the acquittal of a white police officer in the 2011 shooting death of a black man turned rowdy on Sunday as a handful of demonstrators threw bottles in response to a police officer making arrests.
Hundreds of protesters gathered for the third night in a row in the Missouri city of almost 320,000 people. Violence erupted the previous two nights, evoking memories of the riots following the 2014 shooting of a black teenager by a white officer in nearby Ferguson, Missouri.
Sunday’s event began peacefully, just like the previous two nights.
Then a police officer was making two arrests a block away from police headquarters, leading some to rush toward the officer, who then jumped in his car and drove quickly in reverse through the crowd to get away, according to two Reuters journalists.
Nobody was injured, but the crowd started facing off against a police line, and some people threw bottles.
“Group near HQ throwing debris @ officers following a traffic stop. If group cannot be peaceful, they will be ordered to leave,” the St. Louis Police Department said on Twitter.
Protest organizers asked some demonstrators to keep their distance from police, although about 75 stood their ground.
The protests began after Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson on Friday acquitted former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, 36, of first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, 24.
On Friday, 33 people were arrested and 10 officers injured, police said.
Violence flared anew on Saturday night when about 100 protesters, some holding bats or hammers, shattered windows and skirmished with police who were in riot gear, resulting in at least nine arrests.
More serious clashes broke out in 2014 in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, following the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer who was not indicted.
The Ferguson protests gave rise to Black Lives Matter, a movement that has staged protests across the United States.
Sunday’s crowd appeared to be the largest of the three days at more than 1,000 people.
Hundreds of protesters assembled before the barricaded police headquarters, and the growing crowd then marched past a line of riot police near St. Louis University without incident.
An informal group known as the Ferguson frontline has organized the protests, focusing on what it describes as institutional racism that has allowed police to be cleared of criminal wrongdoing in several shootings of unarmed black men.
“Windows can be replaced. Lives can‘t,” said Missy Gunn, a member of Ferguson frontline and mother of three children including a college-age son. She said she feared for him every night.
As activists marched through central St. Louis, drummers set the beat for the chant: “If we don’t get no justice, y‘all don’t get no peace.”
Demonstrators also called out: “Anthony Lamar Smith” and later lay down in front of police headquarters, simulating death in a “die-in.”
Smith was shot in his car after Stockley and his partner chased him following what authorities said was a drug deal. Prosecutors argued that Stockley planted a weapon in Smith’s car, but the judge believed the gun belonged to Smith.
Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Kenny Bahr; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney