Faith leaders call for change; protesters set up encampment outside of St. Louis jail
On the fifth day after the Jason Stockley verdict was announced, protesters mostly rested Tuesday while faith leaders converged on downtown St. Louis to call for change. And near the city’s jail, a half-dozen people are committed to camping out until everyone who was arrested Sunday night is released.
“You cannot pray all the time, sometimes you have to get up and do something,” Pastor Ivan James from St. Louis’ Asbury United Methodist Church said. “And now’s the time we do something.”
During the afternoon prayer service, which was held at Kiener Plaza, leaders from Catholic, Baptist, Episcopal, Jewish, Islamic and other faith traditions spoke of the racism they said is endemic to St. Louis.
Rabbi James Bennett of Congregation Sharre Emeth said the verdict once again showed that some lives seem to be more important than others.
“So many of our friends and neighbors and fellow citizens suffer the pain of injustice and feel unheard and unnoticed and victimized by our society. We know that this is not the fault of any one individual, it is all of our fault. We are all responsible,” he told the crowd of hundreds, many of which were clergy members.
Stockley, a former St. Louis officer who is white, was acquitted Friday of first-degree murder in the 2011 fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black. Prosecutors alleged Stockley executed Smith after a car chase and then planted a gun in his car. Stockley maintained that Smith reached for the gun and that he shot Smith in self-defense.
Pastor Trey Herweck of Refuge Church, a white man, asked for forgiveness, saying that his race has not “dignified” the voices of his “brothers and sisters.”
“In no way do we deserve your grace and your patience and your forgiveness. But I will still ask for it,” he said.
Protesters and others might be tired, said Bishop Derrick Robinson of Kingdom Destiny Fellowship in the Metro East, but there are more demonstrations coming, because the city will be made uncomfortable.
“We’re tired. We will not longer sit in our pulpits and just pray. But we will pray with our feet. If we have to march these streets alone,” he said, “we will and they will hear us.”
A majority of those in attendance followed his advice after the service ended, as the Rev. Linden Bowie invited the crowd to march to City Hall in a move of solidarity. It happened to coincide with Mayor Lyda Krewson’s news conference.
“Those of you who can and will please join us in a move of solidarity just to say to the whole wide world that we’re not just praying together, we’re moving together,” said Bowie, who is the president of the Missionary Baptist State Convention of Missouri.
A half-dozen people have set up camp outside the St. Louis Justice Center downtown to support those arrested during protests this weekend, especially the more than 120 that were detained Sunday.
They set up tents on the sidewalk Monday night and offered medical help, food, water and transportation to people who are slowly being released from the jail. The St. Louis chapter of the National Lawyer’s Guild is paying $50 bond to get people out.
Landry Fort, 22, of St. Louis, was one of the beneficiaries. He was arrested Sunday evening near the St Louis City Public Library, and said he wasn’t part of the protest but just passing by when he was stopped by officers and arrested on a failure to disperse charge.
“When I did finally get released from the Justice Center, I sat outside and I talked to a few people to give them some information on me, to let them know ‘hey, I was just a civilian and I was attacked,” Fort said Tuesday morning. He added that he received bruises and scrapes on his face, chest and knees during the arrest.
Chris Simmons, 27, was arrested Sunday, also for failure to disperse. Simmons lives near where he was arrested and said he was trying to go home when he was stopped by police.
He said he thinks the gathering of people outside the building on Monday night and into Tuesday made an impact.
“I think when people actually started camping out, because that information was kind of disseminated amongst correctional officers down there, that’s when people felt like ‘Alright, this is becoming a bigger deal, we need to start letting people out,’” he said.
Simmons said the officers started to “strategically pull people out” — like journalists and activists — to calm the crowd down.
Fort and Simmons, who are both black, said they hadn’t gone to the protests after the Stockley verdict, but that they will now. Those camping out said they will not leave the site until the all of those arrested have been released.
Inform our coverage
Please help us report on this ongoing situation. Tell us: What questions or concerns do you have about the Stockley protests?