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St. Louis: Protests after white officer acquitted in fatal shooting of black man

Demonstrators have clashed with police for a second night in St. Louis following the acquittal of ex-officer Jason Stockley in the fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith. The violence followed a day of peaceful protests.

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Police and protesters clash in St. Louis

The renewed clashes in St. Louis, Missouri on Saturday night between demonstrators and police in riot gear marred what had largely been a peaceful day of protests at various locations around the city.

Protesters gathered in the University City district had disbanded and planned to reassemble Sunday afternoon, but a small group refused to go. Police declared the scene an unlawful assembly and ordered them to disperse. Officers in riot gear moved in - demonstrators smashed windows and threw objects at police as they retreated. At least seven people were arrested. 

Second night of confrontation

It followed similar clashes on Friday night, during which several officers were wounded and dozens of protesters arrested in scenes reminiscent of the racially charged unrest that erupted in nearby Ferguson in 2014.

Read more: Police reform in Ferguson

On Friday, what started as peaceful protests over the acquittal of white ex-police officer Jason Stockley in the fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man, quickly escalated when demonstrators broke a window and splattered paint over St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson's house. That prompted riot police to respond by dispersing the crowd with tear gas and armored vehicles.

Two officers were hospitalized after protesters hurled bricks at them, the St. Louis police department said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, video footage posted online showed police dousing at least five protesters with pepper spray outside the courthouse where Stockley was acquitted.

Ahead of the ruling, activists had threatened civil disobedience, including possible efforts to shut down highways, if Stockley were not convicted. One group of protesters tried to climb onto one of the highways but was blocked by police. Another group cut off an intersection by sitting down silently in the middle of the street.

Ex-cop Stockley acquitted of first-degree murder

Stockley was found not guilty of first-degree murder after he fatally shot and killed Smith back in 2011. The court on Friday found that the State had failed to prove "every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt" or had not "proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense."

According to Stockley, Smith had attempted to run over him and his partner after they encountered what appeared to be a drug deal in a fast-food restaurant parking lot. After chasing the Smith by car, Stockely opened fire through the driver's window after Smith allegedly tried to reach over to the passenger seat to grab a revolver.

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Police dashcam footage showed Stockley saying that he was "going to kill this (expletive), don't you know it," before shooting Smith five times, which, according to the prosecution, proved the officer had intended to kill Smith. Stockley's lawyer dismissed the remarks, saying they were "human emotions" uttered during a high-risk police pursuit.

Footage also showed Stockley reaching into a bag in the back of the police SUV before returning to Smith's car. The revolver Smith is alleged to have reached for did not have his DNA on it, although it had Stockley's.

However, Judge Timothy Wilson said he doubted the prosecution's claim that the gun was planted, writing in his ruling: "The court observes, based on its nearly 30 years on the bench, that an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly."

Following the ruling, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner acknowledged the difficulty of winning police shooting cases, but maintained that the prosecution had "offered sufficient evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt" that Stockley had intended to kill Smith.

Remnants of Ferguson

Friday's violent protests played out not far from the Missouri suburb of Ferguson, where Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, was shot dead by a white policeman in 2014. The officer, Darren Wilson, was never charged, prompting weeks of civil unrest and giving rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Since then, several officers have also been acquitted in police shooting trials in Minnesota, Oklahoma and Wisconsin, while a case in Ohio twice ended in a hung jury with the prosecution deciding not to seek a third trial.

dm, se/rg (AP, Reuters)

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