As an organization dedicated both to police accountability and to defending political dissent, we are deeply disturbed by both the acquittal of the former police officer who killed Anthony Lamar Smith and police use of force against the protests in response to this acquittal.
Smith was killed by then-police officer Jason Stockley in 2011. Stockley was charged with first degree murder and could be heard in a dashcam video saying during a police chase “ I’m going to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it.” Prosecutors alleged Stockley planted a gun after killing Smith. A judge acquitted Stockley after a bench trial. It is yet another instance of a white police officer being acquitted of killing an African-American.
Unsurprisingly, many people were outraged and took to streets to protest against police violence and for racial justice. Unfortunately, police have reportedly responded by infringing on people’s constitutional rights. On September 15, 2017 the St. Louis Police made international headlines after video emerged of cops in full riot gear trampling an elderly woman as they attempted to disperse protesters. On September 18, 2017 St. Louis Police kettled protesters. While property damage occurred, kettling involves encircling individuals in a given area and arresting them. It involves the arrest not only of protesters who did not engage in property damage, but bystanders. A journalist was among those arrested. Kettling is unconstitutional.
Police have an obligation to do everything in their power to facilitate, as opposed to deprive, people’s right to assemble. Shutting down an assembly, indiscriminately using weapons, like pepper spray, and arresting entire groups of protesters without individual probable cause are all violations of this right.
Police treating dissent as a crime is an all too common problem in the US. Repressing protests against police brutality and impunity is particularly egregious.