Above photo: Green Party candidate Elston McCowan at 2017 protest. Provided by the author.
In 2017 my article, “Any White Cop Can Kill a Black Man at Any Time,” told how St. Louis cop Jason Stockley killed a 24-year-old black man, Anthony Lamar Smith. Though Stockley claimed he had fired in self defense when Smith pulled a gun on him, evidence showed that he had planted the gun after the killing. When Stockley was found “not guilty” protests by thousands in St. Louis lasted for months, just as in 2014 when another white cop Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in neighboring Ferguson.
Crises of cops indiscriminately killing black men keep intensifying throughout the area. In 2018, Stockley sued the City of St. Louis for putting him on trial in a case that could have created a precedent for cops being able to kill without ever being held accountable. Then, on September 20, 2019, news broke that in 2012, soon after the killing, the Missouri Attorney General’s office had suppressed evidence regarding Stockley’s DNA being found on the gun he claimed belonged to his victim. This is after months of the St. Louis Police Officers Association (SLPOA) harassing the City’s first black female Circuit Attorney for attempting to defend citizens from racist attacks.
We cannot limit ourselves to looking at only actions by white cops because those killings are interwoven into a pattern which includes rampant police violence, political cover-ups, political scandals, courtroom injustice, orchestrated suppression of demonstrations, and attacks on any effort to challenge the status quo. Post-Michael Brown racism in St. Louis reflects a coordinated effort by multiple right wing forces for an all-out attack on civil liberties.
Let’s back up to get a better picture of how the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith fits into the big picture. When Jason Stockley pumped 5-7 shots into Smith in 2011, the cop claimed that he had to defend himself from a heroin dealer. Local press briefly covered it as a drug deal gone bad.
But it turned out to be much more than that. Kirkwin Taylor reported that he and his 5-year-old son had been riding with Smith before going to a fast-food restaurant. Taylor disputed the claim that Smith had drugs and a gun. “I wouldn’t have had my son in there if there was a gun.”
When Stockley first approached Smith’s car, he carried his own unauthorized AK-47as well as his police gun. It is very possible that Smith sped away because he was terrified of the gun-toting cop. Stockley got a 30 day suspension for the AK-47 and resigned from the police force in 2013. He left to Houston TX where he took a lucrative management job.
Also in 2013 Missouri Assistant Attorney General Dana Tucker filed a summary report on the case that said “the currently available evidence raises serious questions as to whether the shooting occurred as stated.” The year before, investigators found Stockley’s DNA on the gun he claimed he took from Smith’s car after killing him. Smith’s DNA was not on the gun. Additionally, Stockley’s DNA appeared on a screw in the gun, indicating that the cop had handled it considerably.
On Saturday, September 21, 2019, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Missouri Attorney General’s office had concealed “that information from lawyers, city officials and reporters.” The facts surrounding Smith’s death were not available to his family in 2013 when they settled a wrongful death suit for $900,000.
The DNA evidence was made available in 2016 when Stockley went to trial for murder. At the trial, it was brought out that a police car device recorded Stockley telling his partner, “I’m gonna kill that ******!” as they chased Smith at over 80 miles per hour through city streets. A video documented that after Stockley killed Smith, he went back to the police car, grabbed an object and placed it by the victim.
Pointing out that it would make no sense for an officer who had killed a suspect to handle evidence, the prosecuting attorney charged that Stockley had planted the .38-caliber revolver so he could claim “self-defense.” Stockley decided to not request a jury trial, leaving his fate to a single judge. Of 83 cops charged with killing civilians during the previous 12 years none has ever been convicted in a “bench trial.”
As St. Louis waited for the verdict, media reviewed possible sentences of death or life imprisonment or conviction of second degree murder. The corporate press almost skipped over a theoretical option of “not guilty.” But in the days leading up to revelation of the judge’s decision, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens and St. Louis City politicians urged “calm,” as if they knew a storm was about to break.
During the wait for the verdict, St. Louis civil rights activists remembered that on the first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, several police in Columbia MO announced they were having “Darren Wilson Day” in order to celebrate that cop’s killing the unarmed Michael Brown. Two days before the judge’s decision was made public, Richard Geisenheyner, of Liberty Plaza MO, hung a sign by his confederate flag saying “SLAVES 4 SALE.” He explained that he was “tired of the government telling him what to think.”
On September 15, 2017, the St. Louis community was stunned to learn that Jason Stockley would not get the death penalty, not life imprisonment, and not even one day in jail. The judge decreed that Stockley was innocent and set him free. Free to become a cause célèbre of the Ku Klux Klan.
Within minutes of the news hitting the air, Zaki Baruti, leader of the Universal African Peoples Organization and Green Party candidate for governor in 2000, had pulled together nine people to protest by the courthouse. The crowd of demonstrators soon mushroomed to hundreds.
The meaning of the verdict was clear: If Jason Stockley could not be convicted of any crime, the judge’s decision said that no white cop should ever be convicted of killing a black man, regardless of the evidence against him.
St. Louis police were pulled from many regular duties and announced that they were unable to provide security for weekend events which were canceled across the city. Investors moaned the loss of revenue from cancellation of concerts. Dozens of schools let students out early that day.
By Monday, students had walked out of class in at least 3 high schools and 2 universities. In addition to street demonstrations, hundreds marched through shopping malls. There have been so many spontaneous marches that no one knows for sure how many people have participated – several thousand for certain by Wednesday, September 20.
Demonstrations spread across St. Louis City and County and Governor Greitens re-appeared with National Guard tanks announcing his willingness to do whatever necessary to maintain order. Area cops had a field day attacking and pepper spraying demonstrators after boxing them in or when they were trying to disperse.
The Riverfront Times reported that at 7:30 pm on September 17, a cop “driving an unmarked patrol car put the blue Impala in reverse and shot through an approaching crowd, narrowly missing protesters.” Everyone was acutely aware of the murder less than a month before of anti-racist Heather Heyer by a white supremacist racing his car into a crowd in Charlottesville VA.
The Green Party of St. Louis had intense internal discussions regarding how to respond to both the 2014 killing of Michael Brown and the 2017 acquittal of Stockley. Several Greens had led demands for body cameras and civilian oversight boards for the police. But many felt that these did not get to the heart of the matter, which was that killer cops walk free regardless of the evidence against them.
What cops need more than cultural sensitivity training is an understanding that they can and will go to jail for their own criminal behavior. With the idea in mind that the best therapy for a racist cop is witnessing another cop doing hard time behind bars, in 2014 St. Louis Greens had multiple signs printed advocating consequences for the killer of Michael Brown: “Jail Darren Wilson for Life!” In 2017, the Party recycled these signs by taping the name “Jason Stockley” over that of Wilson.
The months of protesting the freeing of Stockley was barely over when a new scandal shook Missouri. The same Governor Eric Greitens who had urged calm while putting the National Guard on alert announced during his January 11, 2018 “State of the State” address that he had had an affair and that he and his wife had come to terms with it.
That admission left out details of bondage and sexual blackmail that made it the center of news stories for months. The woman in the affair had been Greiten’s hairstylist in 2015, when he asked her to his home. After she arrived he invited her to his basement for a “real thrill.” There, he allegedly taped her wrists to exercise equipment and blindfolded and began undressing her.
In a report from her husband, who secretly taped her confession, she had not objected to anything at that point. But she became terrified when seeing a camera flash from edges of the tape covering her eyes and heard the threat “You’re never going to mention my name, otherwise this picture will be everywhere.”
As details of the scandal unfolded, Missouri Republicans became increasingly uneasy about their wonder boy in the governor’s mansion. They easily overlooked his being a former Democrat who campaigned for Obama. Greitens won them over during his 2016 run for governor when TV ads featured his holding an automatic weapon. Once in office, he got the Missouri legislature to undermine unions by promoting laws on “right-to-work” and prohibiting cities from having a minimum wage above the state level.
Oozing self-confidence, he had reserved a “Greitens for President” website. Most Missouri Republicans would not come out against Greitens, instead having a wait-and-see attitude. If he could escape prosecution for terrorizing a woman, he might just be the gun-toting, union-busting guy to be their man in the White House.
Yet, this was not to be. Greitens lived in St. Louis, which allowed Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner to bring charges against him in January, 2018. The first black woman to hold that post, she pursued the case and kept the scandal in the public eye until he resigned in June 2018. Zaki Baruti clearly remembers Greitens’ vowing to “destroy her reputation” as he left office. Indignant that a black woman could bring down such a promising and handsome white man, Missouri Republicans have been seething ever since.
They soon found allies in their anti-Gardner crusade. The Circuit Attorney wants to develop a “diversion program” to keep first-time offenders out of prison by developing community supports. This is a direct affront to the “lock ’em up” mentality which seeks to punish and hurt whoever cannot afford to hire an expensive lawyer.
Even more upsetting to some, Gardner made a list of several dozen cops who should not be trusted as witnesses in court due to making racist remarks online or otherwise indicating that their testimony would be suspect. The St. Louis Police Officers Association became outraged and demanded that Gardner recant.
Instead of taking any action to reduce cop violence SLPOA is going along with members who repeatedly file lawsuits against the City of St. Louis when attempts are made to discipline them. Thus, a city scrapped for money is forced to pay for both civil judgments resulting from police wrongdoing and suits brought by cops themselves.
Jason Shockley’s lawsuit charging “defamation and malicious prosecution” was the epitome of cops’ thumbing their noses at any efforts to make them abide by the same standards of human decency that the rest of us are held to. When it was thrown out of court on February 14, 2019, Kim Gardner called it a “tremendous victory” and condemned such “baseless lawsuits” and “shameful behavior” of the SLPOA.
This pattern of collaboration between cops who kill black men, courts who don’t charge them or let them off, politicians who cover up evidence, and police organizations that seek to undo any challenges to white supremacy could have repercussions throughout the US and other countries. It forebodes coordinated efforts to protect cops from ever being arrested and tried not just for deadly racism, but also for homophobic killings, femicide and anti-labor and anti-environmental death squads.
Events in St. Louis are occurring in a context of a Trumpist cancer that is rampantly spreading throughout the global body. This disease is clearest in the case of anti-immigrant hatred directed against Hispanics who are victims of US-inspired dictatorships and corporate-inspired climate change. People throughout the world are increasingly fleeing from climate disasters as right-wing forces increase vitriolic intolerance of “outsiders.”
In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro watches the rainforest burn so indigenous peoples and earth defenders can be driven out as resource extraction increases. In India, Prime Minister Modi declares war on dalits (“untouchables”), adivasi (native people) and Muslims of Kashmir. Throughout Europe, neo-Nazi cliques are on the rise, blaming the troubles of capitalism on immigrants who flee their homes for the same reasons immigrants seek asylum in the US.
As climate catastrophe heightens, ruling classes are telling the more privileged to shut out the “other.” Yet, tomorrow’s definition of “privileged” will be narrowed so that most of those on the inside today will themselves become the “other” in the future.
We cannot afford for our separate efforts for human rights to be apart from each other while anti-human rights forces are sharpening their strategies of exclusion. It is an objective historic necessity to understand that barbarity against any group anywhere is a crime against all. Though it has been said many, many times before, it is critical that campaigns for human liberation hang together or divergent struggles will hang separately.
Don Fitz (email@example.com) has taught Environmental Psychology at Washington University and Fontbonne University in St. Louis. He is on the Editorial Board of Green Social Thought, newsletter editor for the Green Party of St. Louis and was the 2016 candidate of the Missouri Green Party for Governor.