(ST. LOUIS) — Hundreds of mostly white protesters gathered Thursday evening in downtown St. Louis and marched, chanting “white silence is violence.”
Organizers called for the “White Allies Only” rally, which began at Kiener Plaza. The demonstration is the latest of several since Friday, when a judge acquitted former police officer Jason Stockley, who is white, of fatally shooting a 24-year-old black man, Anthony Lamar Smith.
Protest organizer Cori Bush said people of many races are upset and angry about the treatment of blacks in St. Louis. She said the rally will help drive that point home.
“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 marched down a busy street to Busch Stadium about an hour before singer Billy Joel was scheduled to perform in front of an estimated 50,000 fans. Metal barriers were set up and many police officers stood outside the baseball stadium, some in riot gear.
At one point, the crowd of demonstrators chanted “I don’t see no riot here, why are you in riot gear?”
Concerts by U2 and Ed Sheeran were canceled last weekend amid security concerns.
A couple hundred demonstrators blocked traffic for about 30 minutes Thursday afternoon near Forest Park. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that police formed a line to keep protesters from walking onto Interstate 64.
More than 160 people were arrested in protests last weekend. Rallies this week have been largely peaceful. On Wednesday, demonstrators blocked traffic near the St. Louis Galleria shopping mall. The protest broke up when police announced it had become an unlawful assembly.
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.”