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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 
protests."

   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 
percent.

   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 
Asian-American protesters.

   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."


(KA)

 
 
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