Protest rally planned in St. Louis for ‘white allies’

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ST. LOUIS — Hundreds of mostly white protesters gathered Thursday evening in downtown St. Louis and marched, chanting “white silence is violence” in the latest demonstration following the acquittal of a former police officer in the death of a black man.

Organizers called for the “White Allies Only” rally, and a large crowd marched from a downtown plaza to Busch Stadium, where about 50,000 people gathered for a Billy Joel concert. The raucous crowd stood outside the stadium chanting for several tense minutes while about 100 officers stood inside a metal barrier, some in riot gear, but there were no confrontations or arrests.

A judge on Sept. 15 acquitted former officer Jason Stockley in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith. More than 160 people were arrested in protests last weekend, but demonstrations since then have been law-abiding.

Protest organizer Cori Bush said the point of Thursday’s rally was to drive home the point that it isn’t just African-Americans upset by the Stockley verdict.

“I think it’s great for people to know there are white people that believe black lives matter and aren’t afraid to show it, that want to tear down systemic racism,” Bush said.

Jennifer Sherer, a demonstrator from St. Louis, said the city remains badly segregated.

“When you look at the history of St. Louis, the racial divide is very intentional,” Sherer said while holding a “black lives matter” sign.

Protesters have aimed to disrupt commerce in St. Louis, with significant success. Downtown virtually shut down on the day of the ruling. Bars and restaurants closed during protests in the city’s Central West End and in the suburb of University City. Concerts by U2 and Ed Sheeran were canceled last weekend amid security concerns.

In a separate protest, a couple hundred demonstrators blocked traffic for about 30 minutes Thursday afternoon near Forest Park. Police formed a line to keep protesters from walking onto Interstate 64.

Bush declined to disclose plans for additional upcoming protests and said it was too early to say if demonstrators would show up at a Sunday appearance in St. Louis by Steve Bannon, who returned as chief of Breitbart News last month after leaving President Donald Trump’s administration.

Bannon is scheduled to appear at the “Put America First Rally” sponsored by Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagles, a spinoff of the conservative think tank Eagle Forum. A spokeswoman for Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagles said the rally was planned long before the recent spate of protests. Schlafly, a conservative icon, died last year at age 92.

Stockley killed Smith in 2011 after a police chase. Stockley testified he shot Smith in self-defense. Prosecutors alleged that Stockley planted the gun found in Smith’s car. Judge Timothy Wilson ruled prosecutors didn’t prove murder beyond a reasonable doubt.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that there have been more fatal police shootings in St. Louis so far in 2017 than in any year for a decade, even with three months remaining until year’s end. Police have fatally shot eight people so far this year, up from five in all of 2016. Police say all of those shot by officers were armed.

Police Lt. Col. Rochelle Jones attributed the rise in police shootings to the rise in violent crime. But the Rev. Phillip Duvall, who has been active in recent protests, said the data suggests police are “not being too cautious.”