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St. Louis On Edge As Protesters Expected To Gather Again

Sep 20, 2017
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Protesters are planning to gather again this evening in St. Louis, as they have most nights since Friday. That's when a judge found a white police officer not guilty of murder in the fatal shooting of a black motorist six years ago. NPR's David Schaper is in St. Louis. He reports that many there are criticizing some of the police tactics during the protests, accusing them of further aggravating tensions while making mass arrests.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Landy Fort says he was not a part of the massive demonstration downtown St. Louis Sunday night. The 22-year-old from north St. Louis says he was just riding his bike around to see what was going on when police officers asked him to leave.

LANDY FORT: And you know, I was like, OK, I'm on my way. So you know, I was getting ready to make my turn. And they approach me again. And when they approach me again, they got out. They got out with their sticks, with their batons, all of that. And they attacked me.

SCHAPER: St. Louis Police say in a statement that complaints of excessive force will be investigated by internal affairs, adding that officers are held to the highest standards of professionalism, and any officer not meeting those standards will be held accountable. Earlier this week police said, quote, "agitators outnumbered the peaceful demonstrators Sunday night, and the unruly crowd became a mob," end quote. Windows were broken, concrete planters knocked over and a few dumpsters lit on fire.

Fort was arrested, one of more than 100 people taken into custody. As he and others were released from jail to a waiting crowd of supporters, they complained that many of those arrested were not the vandals. They included journalists and bystanders, too, like Christopher Simmons.

CHRISTOPHER SIMMONS: All the people that were on the sidewalks or taking pictures we're kind of, like, mosh-pit in and, like, closed in from all corners, told to disperse. And we had nowhere to go.

SCHAPER: It's an aggressive tactic called kettling in which officers form solid lines and close in on a group from all sides, blocking their exit routes and then make mass arrests.

SIMMONS: But the most intense thing for me was after people were arrested, officers started pulling out cigars and smoking. They were taking selfie photos with us, like, making us hold up pictures or papers saying failure to disperse.

SCHAPER: Some of the officers even started chanting, whose streets, our streets, in a mocking and derisive tone. Then interim St. Louis Police Chief Lawrence O'Toole declared, quote, "we are in control, and the police owned the night."

LYDA KREWSON: I think that's an inflammatory comment.

SCHAPER: St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson says the chanting and taunting by officers was inappropriate and unacceptable. She says the city cannot tolerate violence and the destruction of property during protests and adds that many officers are under a lot of stress.

KREWSON: But I also want to be clear that intimidation is not conduct that lives up to the standard of behavior expected by police officers or employees.

SCHAPER: But Mayor Krewson says she continues to have confidence in her interim police chief. A community forum is being held tonight by the search committee looking to find a permanent top cop for St. Louis. And protesters plan to march tonight in suburban Clayton, the latest affluent area in and around St. Louis targeted by demonstrators. They hope the disruptions draw attention to the region's racial disparities. David Schaper, NPR News, St. Louis.

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