The Archbishop of St. Louis called for prayer and peace after a judge acquitted a former St. Louis police officer in the shooting of a man in 2011. “If we want peace and justice, we must come together as a community through prayer, mutual understanding, and forgiveness,” Archbishop Robert Carlson said Sept. 15. “While acknowledging the hurt and anger, we must not fuel the fires of hatred and division.”
On Friday, St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson acquitted former officer Jason Stockley of first-degree murder charges in the shooting of 24 year-old Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011. Stockley, a white officer with the St. Louis Police Department, fatally shot Smith after a car chase. The case received special attention in the wake of another high profile case in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, where police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18 year-old Michael Brown. Riots occurred in the area, pointing to longstanding racial tensions and alleging a history of police abuse.
Over the weekend, demonstrations in protest of Friday’s ruling took place in the city’s downtown area. Marchers called for reforms to the justice system and called attention to racism. The mayor’s house was reportedly damaged in the protests.
Demonstrations on Saturday began peacefully but turned violent after dark, the St. Louis Police Department reported on its Facebook page on Saturday night. Nine officers had been injured by late Saturday night, and tear gas was deployed after officers had been pelted with bricks and other objects, the department said. On Sunday, the police reported making arrests after protesters blocked street intersections and orders to disperse were ignored; the department reported over 100 arrests made, according to the Washington Post.
The Guardian reported that a group of police officers in riot gear chanted “Whose street? Our street” on the side of a street on Sunday. On Monday morning, the demonstrations were peaceful and no arrests were made, the department said. Archbishop Carlson said that prayer and solidarity are the answers to the verdict, not violence and discord.
“We must ask God for peace in our own hearts and share it with those around us,” he said. “Violence does not lead to peace and justice — they are opposing forces and cannot coexist. I implore each of you to choose peace! Reject the false and empty hope that violence will solve problems. Violence only creates more violence,” he said.
An interreligious prayer service for peace has been planned for 3 p.m. on Tuesday at Kiener Plaza, led by Archbishop Carlson and other religious leaders. “We must work together for a better, stronger, safer community, one founded upon respect for each other, and one in which we see our neighbor as another self,” the archbishop said.