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Protesters return to Galleria mall a week after mass arrests to make determined statement

A week after St. Louis County police arrested 22 people following a peaceful demonstration at the Galleria mall, protesters returned to the shopping center in a short and tightly executed display of resistance they vowed to continue.

Dozens of protesters went to the mall at about 6 p.m. to let police, business leaders and others know that they would not be deterred in their fight to end police violence against black people. They gained a diverse group of followers inside the mall before heading to the intersection of Brentwood Boulevard and Galleria Parkway.

“If people are a little uncomfortable, cool. If people are stuck in traffic, cool. If they’re mad because they can’t buy something, cool,” Democratic state Rep. Bruce Franks said. “We’re going to keep affecting the economy. We’re going to keep disrupting.”

The latest demonstration at the mall came one day after St. Louis police ended a peaceful three-hour protest near Busch Stadium with force. St. Louis officers arrested the Rev. Darryl Gray after spraying him with a chemical agent. They shot activist Calvin “Cap” Kennedy with a Taser and also sprayed him with a chemical agent. Both men were released earlier today from the St. Louis City Justice Center.

With the two forceful police responses in mind, those who led the return trip to the Galleria moved quickly to make their presence known and intentions clear.

After protesters marched briefly through the mall chanting “Black lives matter” and “If we don’t get it, shut it down!” activist Cori Bush addressed shoppers and onlookers.

“We are here not because we can’t afford to shop, not because we don’t have anything else to do,” Bush said. “We are here because our police keep killing black folks. We are here because we’re tired of it and we say, ‘Stop killing us!’

“And because they don’t want to listen, we will bring it to their faces. And they will stop killing us.”

While the protesters were inside the mall, security personnel and police appeared to stand watching — a sharp contrast to their actions last week, when police made multiple arrests and wrestled some protesters to the floor. That later drew a sharp rebuke from local politicians.

Police initially held back during last Saturday’s Galleria protest, but after one protester picked up a trash can that was being used as crowd control and tossed it to the side, officers moved to end the demonstration.

The Richmond Heights and St. Louis County Police Departments said they arrested people last week after mall officials asked them to remove protesters.

Some members of the St. Louis County Council said this week that they want an outside agency to investigate how police handled the protests at the mall, and state Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, contended that police used excessive force. 

There was no such confrontation Saturday.

Bush urged others in the mall to join the protesters, prompting a number of people to come down escalators to march with them —  as another activist shouted “Off of the sidewalk and into the streets.”

With that, Franks, Bush and other protest leaders led marchers who chanted “we ready; we ready for y’all” through mall parking lots and access roads to Brentwood Boulevard, where police blocked off a stretch of the road in front of the mall.

Some protesters said they had shut down the mall and adjoining businesses like The Cheesecake Factory.

On their way to the normally congested intersection in front of the mall, they shouted “What do we want? Send those killer cops to jail.” One of the banners protesters carried read, “Closed due to injustice. No Justice No Peace.”

The protest at the mall is the latest in a nearly daily string of demonstrations that have occurred in the last two weeks. People have taken to the streets since St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson found former St. Louis officer Jason Stockley, who is white, not guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man.

Some in the crowd said it was important to return to the mall after last week’s arrests to show that they would not be turned back by aggressive police tactics.

Franks noted the calm demeanor of police outside the mall.

“Y’all see the difference between when we came this time and when we were at the Galleria last time,” he said. “It wasn’t a lot of us then. We see everybody being real diplomatic right now. Everybody being nice and calm.”

Franks said that’s how the protesters plan to continue their push for change. He also said he hoped the multiracial group of “family” that stood with him in the street would share a unified and unapologetic message that police officers must stop killing black people.

“When we say no justice no profits, that’s what we mean,” Franks said. “That’s what we’re out here for. We’re out here to say, ‘y’all gon stop killing us.’ It’s not an ask. It’s a demand.”

Nancy Fowler and Carolina Hidalgo contributed to this report.

Follow David on Twitter: @dpcazares

David is the health, science and arts & culture editor for St. Louis Public Radio.

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