One week after a judge acquitted former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley of murder in the 2011 death of Anthony Lamar Smith, protesters continued their push for change, taking their message Friday to the mostly white city of St. Charles.
After a brief stop at the St. Louis Outlet Mall, protesters headed for the Oktoberfest festival, where they intended to continue disrupting business as usual as they push for structural change in the region’s institutions.
Their destination was the Trailhead Brewing on Riverside Drive, at the south end of Frontier Park. At about 8:30 p.m., the racially mixed crowd started marching down the streets, carrying signs that read “Racism is not patriotism” and “Black Lives Matter.”
With that, the crowd marched, chanting “Whose Streets? Our streets.” When protest leaders called out, “They think it’s a game," the crowd responded, "They think it’s a joke." When organizers yelled, "It ain’t no game," the response was, "It ain’t no joke.”
Some protesters said it made perfect sense to continue taking their message for reform of St. Louis institutions to St. Charles, where the population is 88 percent white. Their trip to the town of about 70,000 follows similar visits to affluent areas in or near St. Louis — the Central West End, the Delmar Loop, downtown Clayton, and the St. Louis Galleria.
“People in St. Charles come to the city and work in the city,” Sydni Jackson, of Creve Coeur, said. “But they come back here to sleep and live.”
One white bystander yelled, “Thanks for messing up our businesses.”
At one point, the driver of a Jeep blew its horn and tried to inch through the crowd. Minutes later, another car did the same, prompting protesters to strike the car with American flags and the red, black and green flag of black liberation. Its driver backed up.
Police carrying shields showed up as the car tried to go by, the Rev. Darryl Gray said either the police, “don’t get it or they don’t care.”
“You protect property, not people,” Gray told told the officers. “And you wonder why we’re angry.”
Protesters then began blocking the intersection of Main and Jefferson streets. As the protesters tried to hold six minutes of silence, someone yelled "Blue lives matter." St. Louis Alderman John Collins-Muhammad then shouted that he wanted the period of silence to start again. Another onlooker called Anthony Lamar Smith, who Stockley shot after a chase, a heroin dealer.
Some of the protesters began the night’s demonstrations at the St. Louis Outlet Mall. But their intention to disrupt the mall likely caused its operators to close it. The mall announced on its Facebook page that it would close at 5 p.m., hours early.
For eight days, people in St. Louis have decried the judge’s ruling as another example of how the judicial system fails to hold police officers accountable, especially a white officer who kills a black person.
To prevent such deaths, the courts will have to take stronger action against officers whose actions lead prosecutors to charge them, said 29-year-old Cody Costakis, of St. Peters.
“If the court system is changing the way [the police] enforce laws, then the police will change their behavior,” Costakis said at the outlet mall.
Patricia Harris, who also was there, held a sign that read, “My son matters.” Harris, 38, said she worries about his future.
“I’m fighting for my son, my black son. He’s 6 years old. He doesn’t know what’s going on right now. But soon, he will,” she said. “That frightens me, breaks my heart that I have to have conversations with him about the injustices he’ll have to face. I think [the protests are] empowering us to come together.
“The difference between now and Ferguson is that we are taking it different places and it’s making people uncomfortable. They’re having to deal with us. Before, it was all in Ferguson. I feel like we are making some difference. We are not backing down," she said.
Earlier Friday, a small group of people gathered in front of the Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis in support of openly carrying firearms. About a half-dozen people with long guns stood on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. One person brought a bow and arrow to the demonstration.
Dhoruba Shakur said he believes African-Americans would be safer if they armed themselves.
“I believe when a community that is armed, it’s harder to oppress and repress those communities,” Shakur said. “A lot of negative and violent situations that happen in our communities could be avoided by simply arming itself and protecting itself and loving one another.”
The GOP-controlled Missouri General Assembly passed a law in 2016 that allowed local governments, like St. Louis, to prohibit people from carrying weapons openly unless they have concealed-carry permits.
But St. Louis city counselor Michael Garvin told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last year that the city doesn’t enforce its open carry ban because state law has preempted most, if not all, local restrictions.
The courthouse rally had a tranquil atmosphere, with participants chatting amongst themselves while pedestrians walked down the sidewalks.
When asked how he would respond to people who contend wearing a gun causes tension, he replied: “I ask them point out a time in American history when there was a time when there were armed protesters where the situation escalated.”
“I can’t think of one,” he said. “Besides the American Revolution.”
St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum and Ryan Delaney contributed to this report.