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'Free our people': Activists' attention turns to those arrested during St. Louis protests

A demonstrator chants toward St. Louis Metropolitan Police Headquarters Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017 before protests turned violent.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 11:40 p.m. with quote from protester released from jail — Hundreds of protesters redirected their efforts on a rainy Monday night to the St. Louis’ City Justice Center, where people who’d been arrested in recent days were being released.

"We do know that we leave no one behind, right?" an organizer with a megaphone said. "We leave no one behind," came the unified response from the crowd.

More than 150 people have been arrested since Friday night, including 123 on Sunday in downtown St. Louis, the police department said.

Each night since Friday, when a judge decided that former St. Louis officer Jason Stockley, who is white, wasn't guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, protesters called for more police accountability.

The majority of those arrests came after organized protests ended and people broke windows of businesses and at Mayor Lyda Krewson’s house. The last group of people arrested Sunday were surrounded by police who sprayed a chemical agent on them as they sat on the ground, a livestream showed.

St. Louis Interim Police Chief Larry O’Toole said in a news conference early Monday morning that police are “in control” and “own the night." Mayor Lyda Krewson said that “destruction cannot be tolerated."

As the crowd gathered outside the City Justice Center Monday night, protesters shouted "They think it's a game. They think it's a joke."
Credit Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio
As the crowd gathered outside the City Justice Center Monday night, protesters shouted "They think it's a game. They think it's a joke."

The protesters on Monday evening gathered outside of the justice center, chanting, "No justice, no peace," and "Stand up, fight back." They observed two minutes of silence as rain poured down, then yelled loudly: "Justice for Anthony Lamar Smith."

Chesterfield resident Michael Price, 24, was released from the jail during the vigil. He was arrested near the Peabody Opera House on Sunday night and showed off what he said were wounds from rubber bullets. 

Jenna Brown, 36, from St. Louis, didn’t protest in Ferguson three years ago but had friends who were there every day. She joined the crowd outside of the jail for one reason.

“My outright anger. I’m so frustrated and angry at black men being killed in this city by the police and then the police getting away with it," she said.

Another call-and-response chant during the evening: "They think it's a game," organizers said, with the crowd responding, "They think it's a joke."

The crowd thinned appreciably after a hard rain, but some seemed to celebrate it, chanting “Hell no, we won’t go.” Zachary Smith, 22, of St. Louis, was one of them.

“If we let a little rain scare us, we’re not going to make anything change,” he said.


At about 9:15 p.m., organizers projected a video on the side of the justice center — footage from last night’s livestream when several protesters were arrested.

Those leading the gathering asked attendees to go to a website to donate money so they could help pay to bail people out. "Hold your hand up if you can give some money," organizers said, with people walking through the crowd to collect what was being offered.

Fareed Alston, a freelance videographer from Edwardsville, walked out of the jail at about 10 p.m. and took in the crowd. 

"It was reminiscent of something I read regarding the Black Panthers and Huey P. (Newton). 'Free Huey P,' they was chanting, 'Free Huey P.' And I think that was symbolic to what we were going through," Alston said.

Follow Eli, Rachel and Brit on Twitter: @StoriesByEli, @rlippmann,@bnhanson

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.