Protesters angry at police use of force returned to Florissant on Sunday to again call for change and insist that they will not rest until police officers who harm people are held accountable.
Dozens of people gathered along Lindbergh Boulevard to decry police brutality in front of the Florissant Police Department, where some again attempted to paint “Black Lives Matter” after their earlier work had twice been painted over with blue paint by people who support police.
After protesters chalked the lines for the words, a police officer ordered them off the street. When they tried to paint the letters, police in riot gear pushed the crowd back and then arrested two people, who onlookers said were not among the painters. Police confiscated paint and brushes, returned later to order protesters to leave and arrested two others.
Protesters said police continue to use tough tactics to break up peaceful demonstrations. They were particularly unhappy that police stopped the painting and that it wasn't clear whom officers took into custody.
“I’m gonna keep coming out,” activist Sam Snyder said. “Everytime they do something like this to us, it reaffirms why we are here.”
About 8 p.m., police declared the gathering an unlawful protest and ordered the crowd to remain on sidewalks and put away megaphones. The police action angered demonstrators, who continued to press their case, chanting, “You will — respect us.”
“I mean civil disobedience is a thing, but the past two days, we de-escalated the situation, not the cops, because we complied,” Snyder said.
The protesters are among many in the St. Louis region who took to the streets to protest after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd and Louisville police killed Breonna Taylor. In Florissant, demonstrators are angry that a now-fired city police officer drove his unmarked police vehicle into a man earlier this month, and want him convicted. Prosecutors have charged former officer Joshua Smith with first-degree assault, assault in the fourth degree and armed criminal action.
“He was fired, but he had two people in the car with him as well that we are demanding to be fired,” said Jack Wight, who often goes to Respect Us demonstrations.
Wight said he’s impressed to see so many young people among the protesters and said that points to a growing political awareness.
“We have a new era of young people who care more than anyone about the climate, racial justice, just about everything,” he said.
A big question on the minds of some protesters is how long the nationwide wave of protests will continue.
Some said they can’t help but notice how corporations are trying to tap the spirit of the movement by issuing public statements in support of protesters, and how that’s helped keep the fight against police brutality in the public eye.
“But the real challenge is how do you sustain it so it’s not just a moment until the next hashtag,” said filmmaker Chris Phillips, a St. Louis native who has been documenting protests in Minneapolis and Atlanta.
Phillips said he can’t understand why police continue to respond with force to people expressing their dissent with the system.
“To me, from a public safety standpoint and to prevent inciting any more tension or aggression, let them have the street,” Phillips said. “You have a history of bad policing, one of your officers is proven to do wrong, and so people need that time period to express their frustrations.”
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