Forest Park reacts to Stockley verdict

Protesters gather outside the Civil Courts Building in downtown St. Louis after a judge acquitted former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley on Sept. 15. (Photo by Tyler Warren)

By Joshua Phelps and Timothy Bold
The Scene staff

Forest Park nursing student Jasmine Townsend believes former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley should have been found guilty of murder last week.

“The judge made a complete wrong call,” she said. “He didn’t think of the victim.”

Townsend, 21, supported protesters who took to the streets on Sept. 15 after Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson found Stockley, who is white, not guilty of murdering a black man after a high-speed chase.

Most of the daytime protests were peaceful, but they turned violent after dark. Vandals damaged the home of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson in the Central West End and broke windows of businesses downtown and on the Delmar Loop. Scores were arrested, and several police officers were injured.

“I understand the need to let our governmental system of Missouri know that this is wrong,” said Townsend, who is black. “This wasn’t done right. Something needs to be changed. Somebody needs to take order. Someone needs to call (out) these cops that are doing things wrong. They need to show them that this won’t be stood for.”

Townsend is one of several Forest Park students and staff who weighed in on the verdict and subsequent protests.

General studies student Gwen Neuwirth, 27, who is white, said police officers across the country need more accountability and shouldn’t get away with so much brutality, particularly against black people.

“It’s going to continue to happen,” she said. “It’s just natural human nature. If you push the boundaries and you don’t get pushed back, you’re going to keep on going. I think peaceful protests are always good.”

The Stockley case  dates back to 2011, when he and his partner chased a vehicle driven by 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith, a drug suspect, who crashed into another vehicle before Stockley shot him dead.

Stockley later was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action. Prosecutors maintained that he executed Smith and planted a gun. Stockley waived his right to a jury trial, and Wilson ruled that prosecutors didn’t provide enough evidence to support their claims.

In a Sept. 15 email, St. Louis Community College Chancellor Jeff Pittman assured students, faculty and staff that the college was committed to providing a safe and welcoming learning environment. He offered support to those in need through the college’s Student Assistance Program and Counseling Services.

“District and campus leadership will work together to provide forums for discussion and feedback on this verdict and its larger meaning for the region,” he wrote. “In the past, these ‘listening circles’ have allowed our faculty, staff and students to model civility, respect, empathy, understanding and calm while discussing tough issues.”

A woman holds a sign at a protest in downtown St. Louis after the Stockley verdict was handed down on Sept. 15. (Photo by Tyler Warren)

In another email, STLCC instructed employees at its district offices near Busch Stadium to work at a campus location on Sept. 18, the third day of protests, which involved thousands of people.

“The Jason Stockley verdict has elicited some demonstrations detrimental to the safety of the employees at the Cosand Center,” the email stated.

Forest Park police said no incidents related to the verdict were reported on campus.

African American Male Initiative Director Keith Ware, who is black, said he wasn’t surprised by the verdict, even though he thought the evidence against Stockley was strong.

“I don’t have an issue with protests if you want to get things done,” he said. “It can’t go four days and be forgotten if you have no goals. Things systematically need to change.”

Upward Bound TRiO tutor Herman Armstrong, who is black, was disappointed by the verdict.

“First word that comes to mind is ‘ridiculous,’” he said. “There was too much video not to convict Stockley. The protesting is justified because they have the right to voice their opinions peacefully.”

Network engineering major Zacchaeus Windham, 21, who is black, said the “unfair” verdict was just one more example of police getting away with murder.

“I believe there’s no justice for black people,” he said. “I think the protest is legitimate, and they need to continue until results happen. I don’t believe in the justice system.”

Health and information technology major Tricia Fry, 47, who is white, didn’t watch much news about the verdict or protests.

But she said her anatomy classes have taught her that human beings are all basically the same, regardless of race.

“There’s so few differences that it’s almost hard to count them,” she said. “We need to come together as people and stop looking for division.”