Mo. Again at Center of Racial Conflict 09/23 11:57
(AP) -- Missouri is again at the center of a racially charged conflict after
a judge acquitted a white former St. Louis police officer of first-degree
murder in the death of a black drug suspect.
The Sept. 15 verdict provoked angry protests in a state still not fully
recovered from the unrest that followed the 2014 death of Michael Brown, a
black 18-year-old shot by a white officer in the suburb of Ferguson.
Scholars and activists say the latest demonstrations in Missouri, like the
Ferguson protests, aren't just about another police shooting. They reflect
unaddressed racial disparities going back generations.
The current conflict "has everything to do with a lot of the continuing,
underlining social inequities," said Kimberly Jade Norwood, a law professor at
Washington University in St. Louis, who is black. "Poor public education, poor
housing ... lack of access to jobs. All these issues are prominent in the
Hours after a judge acquitted Jason Stockley in the 2011 shooting death of
Anthony Lamar Smith, downtown St. Louis came to a standstill as marching
protesters blocked traffic. The demonstrations went on for days, with
multiracial protest crowds swelling to thousands of people and spilling into a
popular nightlife district in western St. Louis, the hip Delmar Loop area of
nearby University City and into two shopping malls.
As the protests intensified, a St. Louis synagogue gave demonstrators
shelter after police deployed tear gas. More than 160 people were arrested, and
some officers were injured by hurled bricks.
Although the latest events have centered in St. Louis, the whole state has
faced recent scrutiny over racial disparities. The NAACP's national delegates
voted in July to issue a travel advisory for Missouri, citing reports that
African-Americans were more likely than whites to be stopped by law enforcement
officers there, as well as other current and past racial issues in the state.
Earlier this year, the Republican-led state Legislature passed a
much-debated law that raised the standard for suing for workplace or housing
discrimination, a vote that drew scorn from civil rights leaders.
And last month, a white Missouri House member posted on Facebook that he
hoped whoever vandalized a Confederate monument in the southwest of the state
would be hanged, sparking calls for him to resign. Before that, a black
Democratic state senator posted and later deleted a comment on Facebook about
hoping for President Donald Trump's assassination. The Republican-led state
Senate formally reprimanded the Democrat, while the GOP-led state House took
the less serious step of opening an ethics review of the Republican.
Advocates point to the state's second-largest city as a place where racial
inequalities are evident and often ignored.
Stockley's acquittal was the latest evidence of a pattern that
"African-Americans are subjected to a totally different justice system,"
Derrick Johnson, interim NAACP president and CEO said in a statement. Smith's
death and the deaths of "countless other victims of police brutality" in
Missouri are why the NAACP issued the travel advisory.
According to the U.S. Census, the unemployment rate among African-Americans
in St. Louis County was 15 percent in 2015, compared with 5 percent among
whites. The county's poverty rate for African-Americans was 22 percent in 2015
compared with 6 percent for whites.
Nationally, the unemployment rate among African-Americans in 2015 was 10
A 2015 report titled "For the Sake of All" produced by Washington University
and Saint Louis University found that mainly black St. Louis ZIP codes in some
cases had an 18-year difference in life expectancy when compared with largely
white ZIP codes.
That type of stark difference formed the basis of a warning issued nearly 50
years ago in a report by the Kerner Commission --- a panel appointed by
then-President Lyndon Johnson to examine the causes of urban riots in the late
1960s. The commission predicted that cities would continue to see racial
tensions if communities did not address racial barriers, poverty, housing
discrimination and conflicts between police and minority communities.
"These are almost the exact same issues," said Fred Harris, a former U.S.
senator from Oklahoma and the last surviving member of the commission, who now
lives in Corrales, New Mexico. "To see that these problems are still with us, I
think today we can get some people to do something about it."
Harris said he was encouraged by the activists in Missouri.
Norwood said she, too, was somewhat optimistic. Days after the
demonstrations paralyzed St. Louis, the city's Board of Aldermen voted to
approve a one-year trial for police body cameras. She was also heartened to see
that the protests in St. Louis and Ferguson were diverse and included white and
Those changes are needed to tackle Missouri's current problems, she said,
because "in every system that matters, there are tremendous divides in the
state based on racial lines."