A judge acquitted a white former St. Louis police officer Friday in the death of a black man who was fatally shot following a high-speed chase in 2011.
The acquittal of Jason Stockley in the death of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith came amid concerns of significant unrest, but St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson wrote that he was bound by the Code of Judicial Conduct to not be swayed by “partisan interests, public clamor or fear of criticism.”
The verdict prompted bipartisan agreement. In a series of statements, Missouri elected officials expressed similar sentiments.
Missouri Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat, said in a statement that she stands “with the peaceful protestors, clergy and activists whose voices rise up, demanding that integrity and accountability be restored to our justice system before another black life is taken too soon.”
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Rep. Michael Butler, also a St. Louis Democrat, criticized the local justice system.
“I stand in solidarity with all that will non-violently react,” he said in a statement. “This not guilty verdict of a police officer who violently killed a citizen is another slap in the face to the black community in St. Louis. And a shot in the heart to the family of the victim.
“This system and all the politicians calling for peace are ignoring the pain this verdict causes our communities. Anthony Lamar Smith is dead from a violent act and you want us to be peaceful? You want us to not feel anger? The very people paid to protect us are killing us, paid to make peace are perpetuating violence, and we are supposed to be peaceful?”
On the University of Missouri campus in Columbia, UM System President Mun Choi in a campus-wide statement also called for calm.
Choi said he is aware that members of the MU campus community have followed the murder trial closely “and may have deep feelings and strong opinions about the verdict.” Choi also said he knows that conversations about the trial outcome are being planned around campus.
“The University supports every individual’s right to express personal opinions and feelings in a peaceful manner,” Choi said in the statement. “Our values of Respect, Responsibility, Discovery and Excellence guide all of us, and we remain committed to free expression, but that expression must be shared in a peaceful manner.”
Many MU students hail from St. Louis. Some were on campus in the fall two years ago when a black student led protest erupted there, leading to a student hunger strike, football players threatening not to play, and turning a national spotlight on the school. The protest led to the toppling of then system president Tim Wolfe and MU chancellor R. Bowen Loftin.
The November 2015 MU protest came 15 months after Michael Brown, the 18-year-old black teen who was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. just outside St. Louis.
Gov. Eric Greitens echoed Hummel, addressing the pain the verdict has wrought:
“We know this verdict causes pain for many people. We have been in touch with city and county officials, and the State of Missouri will continue to assist them. I’m committed to protecting everyone’s constitutional right to protest peacefully, while also protecting people’s lives, homes, and communities. For anyone who protests, please do so peacefully.”
Greitens put the National Guard on standby in the days leading up to the verdict as a precautionary step ahead of possible unrest.
Friday morning, protests in response to the verdict swelled in some areas, as protesters blocked an on-ramp to a highway, called for an economic boycott and discussed shutting down other means of transportation, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, said:
“Some Missourians are sure to be pained by today’s decision, and others will agree with the ruling, but the fact is that none of us can let it detract from the goals that we all should share — safer streets, where police have the trust of the communities they serve, and a system of justice that’s fair to all of our citizens. We can’t let today’s decision send us back to our respective corners.”
McCaskill’s likely opponent for the Senate in 2018, Attorney General Josh Hawley, encouraged protesters to demonstrate peacefully, “mindful of their safety and the safety of others. I know our law enforcement will work to keep them safe.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt said:
“The family of Anthony Lamar Smith suffered a tragic loss. This is a difficult day for them, and for all St. Louisans who sought a different outcome in this case. ... If this verdict is met with violence and destruction, it will do nothing but reignite the fear and anger that law enforcement and community leaders have worked tirelessly to address since Ferguson. If it is met with a renewed commitment to continuing the work that is needed to rebuild trust between law enforcement and those they serve, it will show the world how we, as Americans, move forward.”
McCaskill also evoked Ferguson, saying the events following Michael Brown’s death after being shot by an officer “shook our region to its core.”
“But since then, our law enforcement and the families and businesses they serve have begun talking and hearing each other.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.