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Protesters take to Loop after Stockley verdict
Protests broke out on the Delmar Loop Saturday following the acquittal of Jason Stockley, a white former St. Louis police officer who was found not guilty of murdering Anthony Lamar Smith, a 24-year-old black man, while on duty in December 2011.
The protests on the Loop, which came after similar demonstrations downtown and in the Central West End following the verdict’s release Friday morning, led to arrests and damage to multiple Loop businesses, prompting a series of discussions about the case at Washington University.
The heavily anticipated decision and subsequent protests have drawn national attention amidst a continuing narrative in the U.S. of racially charged police shootings, with this case coming just over three years after Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, a black 18-year old, in Ferguson, Mo.
Responses to the decision came from a variety of sources over the weekend, including Washington University administration, Student Union and the protestors.
Protestors come out against the Stockley verdict on the Delmar Loop: pic.twitter.com/N8LAzS27fJ
— Student Life (@studlife) September 17, 2017
TENSIONS RISE ON THE DELMAR LOOP
Protests began on the Loop around 5:30 p.m. Saturday, according to Washington University Police Chief Mark Glenn, with a few hundred demonstrators—including dozens of Washington University students—congregating near the intersection of Delmar Boulevard and Kingsland Avenue.
The protesters—many of them carrying “Black Lives Matter” signs and chanting slogans like “Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like,” and “I can’t breathe”—moved east past the Washington University-owned Lofts student housing just before 7 p.m., eventually turning south on Skinker Boulevard and finally stopping in the intersection of Skinker Boulevard and Forest Park Parkway. The protests were almost entirely peaceful, and by 10 p.m., the group had largely dispersed.
Around 11 p.m., a second group of demonstrators formed on Delmar Boulevard near the Lofts and participated in a more violent demonstration, breaking the windows of multiple Loop businesses and clashing with police.
“I was not there for the post-protest, which is what I think is getting conflated with the actual protest,” junior Sabrina Odigie, who attended the earlier Loop protests, said. “One of my friends living in the Lofts [was there later Saturday night], and I have never even seen her cry before, but I called her to make sure that she was OK, and she was so terrified that she couldn’t even speak. She was crying so hard, and she was so scared that I could barely understand her.”
The escalated violence, which came to a head when demonstrators encroached on the Lofts area, prompted the University to send out an emergency alert to residents of the Lofts through the PA system at 11:01 p.m.
“The foremost concern with that was to make sure that we had no people within those demonstrations that would try to do harm or damage to any of our campus residents there at the Lofts, and so the police department made the decision to go into a lockdown of the Lofts property,” Director of Emergency Management and Business Continuity Ty Davisson said.
The Washington University Police Department also increased its presence around the Lofts during that time until an all-clear alert, intended for Lofts residents only but inadvertently sent out to the entire University community, was issued around 11:30 p.m. No WUPD officers or Washington University students were injured in the demonstrations, and no University property was damaged, even as nearby Loop businesses were vandalized.
However, some in the University community felt that the response to the events was inadequate. Sophomore Michael Liu said he thought the University should have informed all students about potential violence as soon as protests began—something he wrote to Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori White on Sunday.
In a response to Liu, White seemed to agree with his assessment.
“You are right that we should have expanded our alert last night to all students and will do so going forward,” White wrote. “Our highest priority was to notify students currently at the Lofts of the situation and so the alert system in the Lofts was activated…We will make sure that all students going forward receive alerts about events that we think may impact student safety.”
Despite the later violence, students who participated in the earlier protests felt that they were impactful.
“I think that overall it was really peaceful; a lot of people were able to voice their frustrations and feel more heard, which was great,” junior Maddie King, who participated in the early demonstrations, said. “I was really proud of it. I thought it was a wonderful protest.”
As part of the demonstration, protesters highlighted the racial aspect of the case, and participated in a “die in”—a common occurrence at protests around the nation following police-involved shootings. The demonstrators also echoed chants like “Whose streets? Our streets,” used at events around the U.S.
“I’m black. This is a race issue,” Odigie said. “It’s always been a race issue. For people who say racism is dead, I have one word for you: denial. You are in deep, deep denial. This was about race, just as every other case has been about race, whether or not it has been premeditated, as this one was. So, I protested because the system wasn’t made to protect anybody that wasn’t white.”
“RIOT DRINKING GAMES” VIDEO SPARKS CONTROVERSY
While not all students chose to partake in the protest, a group of students incited controversy on Saturday night after a 10-second Snapchat depicted them playing a “riot drinking game.”
The Snapchat began with a student showing himself drinking from a red Solo cup, panning to a TV—with news of the protests playing—and finally zooming out on a larger party.
By 11:34 p.m., the video had been shared to Facebook by senior Teran Mickens, who called for students to “find these people and name them.” A broader discussion on Facebook ensued, ultimately leading to a Bias Report and Support System (BRSS) report being filed.
“There is a lot of anger surrounding recent Snapchat posts and the idea of a ‘riot drinking game’,” senior Taylor Harris said. “If this is a joke to you, and you’re not affected by it, then honestly I wish you the best of luck in your life. It’s probably going to come easy for you. But you should be paying attention just a little bit more to the people who are so close to you, in your backyard.”
The BRSS report led the Office of Residential Life to open an investigation into the video.
“There’s a couple things [wrong in the video]. One is the obvious policy violation for drinking games, which are not allowed in Residential Life, so there’s a concern there,” Dean of Students and Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Transition and Engagement Rob Wild said. “In terms of the comments about the ‘riot drinking games,’ I think, given the reactions to the Stockley verdict…making light of the idea of riots and the language around riots could be perceived as potentially insensitive to individuals who are exercising their freedom of expression.”
Wild said he couldn’t comment on the investigation but confirmed ResLife was looking into the incident to determine any violations.
“If there is something that needs to be addressed we will certainly do that,” he said. “We’re aware of it, and I can confirm that we have enough information, I believe, to be able to thoroughly follow up.”
STUDENT UNION HOLDS OPEN SENATE SESSION
While SU Exec members held a series of internal discussions strategizing an appropriate response to the verdict, junior Clayton Covington penned a Facebook post calling both for a response from SU to the verdict and clarification of the organization’s three central pillars: advocate, allocate and program.
According to junior Tess Mandoli, SU’s vice president of administration, the executive board convened to create action items for students and proposed several possible responses, including a walkout. However, after conversing with students and reading Covington’s Facebook post, SU leaders nixed their initial response, deciding instead that they needed to engage in conversation with students.
“We forgot to take a step back and ask ourselves, ‘why are we not asking people what they want?’” Mandoli said. “So that’s what we’re trying to do now. We’re trying to remedy that and fix that moving forward because we recognize our limitations. We recognize that what you [as a student body are] asking for is for us to ask you. And that really is the most important and powerful thing that we can do.
SU President and junior Sydney Robinson apologized for the organization’s late response to the verdict in an all-school email and invited students to attend an open Senate session Sunday, Sept. 17 to collect student opinions on how SU could best support the student body.
“I made the mistake of thinking we should wait to address the student body until we had this step-by-step plan finalized. This strategy I had hoped would result in a unified stance from Student Union actually resulted in one of silence, and for that I must sincerely apologize,” Robinson wrote in the email.
The Senate meeting saw representatives from student groups including the Association of Black Students (ABS), Association of Latin American Students and Pride Alliance as they gathered with SU senators to engage in conversations on how the Stockley verdict has affected the Washington University community.
Students, including social chair of ABS and sophomore Jaylen Johnson, called on SU representatives to be physically present, rather than relying on emails as the primary form of contact between SU and the student body.
“Sending an email and that being the end, in my mind, sounds like that would be you covering your bases,” Johnson said. “Sending a touch base email might not even be necessary if you were in touch with the rest of the general body. You should be present. You shouldn’t have to reach out to me because you should be there.”
Sophomore and SU senator Sofia Miranda-Fred emphasized the importance of increasing transparency by clearly communicating the timeline and specifics of goals created by SU Exec each academic year.
“At the end of the day, were we able to do the things we set out to or not? We don’t have those systems of accountability, and I think that will be really important for us,” Miranda-Fred said.
Senators and students alike implored SU Exec members to continue creating spaces and opportunities for dialogue and increased communication between SU and students to ensure the organization is truly fulfilling advocacy, its first pillar.
“Why was my first thought that they only way to access this was through Facebook? Why was that my mindset in the first place, if the relationship did not exist and so again, [I] just want to you think about the ideas of accessibility into the Student Union. I just want to remind everyone that the conversation does not end here,” Covington said. “I just want to make sure that people know that moving forward.”
ADMINISTRATORS RESPOND, ORGANIZE REFLECTION EVENT
Shortly following the verdict’s announcement, University administrators quickly communicated with the University community and organized an event aimed at creating an open discussion surrounding the decision later that day.
Chancellor Mark Wrighton was the first to respond, sending an email to the community within an hour of the announcement.
“I am sure the decision is painful and disturbing for many,” Wrighton wrote in the email. “I do not know everything that was considered by the judge, but I am struggling with the outcome myself and what it means for our region.”
In a University-wide email a few hours later, White publicized an open-forum event, titled “Gathering to Reflect upon the Stockley Decision,” which she said was designed as a space for faculty, students and members of the community to gather to express their disappointment and anger at the verdict.
Many speakers challenged Washington University and its leaders to propose logical solutions to systemic racial issues and structural violence—continuing beyond the practice of sending statements and promoting dialogue about racial issues. Dean of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) Emelyn Dela Pena emphasized the root cause of social inequity as a system of racial bias embedded in our social and political institutions.
“We don’t need racists to have racism,” Dela Pena said. “Until we get to the point where we cannot blame individual acts for the system’s oppression happening, we can’t begin to solve that problem—to even get to address it as a community—because we’re thinking about it from a very individual perspective.”
Sophomore Lizzie Franclemont addressed initiatives on campus and spoke with frustration about what she saw as a lack of action, especially amongst the student body.
“Here at Wash. U., there’s a lot of talk and little to no action. And not just on behalf of the administration—but I’d also love it if us as a student body worked harder to do certain things,” Franclemont said. “I think it’s really easy to get comfortable and just kind of exist in the spaces where you are and never want to leave your comfort zone, so I think I would love it if there were more student initiatives to push the envelope….[and] find out what is actually possible instead of putting these limits and constraints on ourselves for what could be done.”
In addition to the Hillman Hall event, the University planned three additional discussion spaces across campus, providing students with opportunities to reflect and process the events that unfolding in the St. Louis region throughout the weekend.
With the weekend coming to an end and protests continuing around the city, discussion surrounding the Stockley verdict seems likely to continue across campus in upcoming weeks.
In his statement to the campus community immediately following the verdict, Wrighton expressed hope that the community would come together during a difficult time.
“It is my hope that the emotional jolt from today’s decision brings peaceful and constructive movement forward. And I hope for demonstrable, meaningful action in addressing the deep-seated issues, disparity and social inequity in our region,” Wrighton wrote.
While acknowledging existing structures at the University—including the CDI and some academic departments—King, who attended the early protests, said she believes students should take an active role in engaging with each other to promote unity within the student body.
“I think we need to be more of an activist community. I think there’s a lot of passivity,” King said. “Everybody knows that police brutality is an issue. I’m sure there are plenty of students who are taking the sociology classes and thinking about it, but we’re not taking action on it, which I think we can do…there’s a divide between black students and other students at Wash. U. that needs to be bridged through more open communications.”
Harris also urged nonblack students to place themselves in the position of black students and empathize with the prejudice they face in their daily lives.
“To be completely honest, white silence is white violence [if] you’re sitting down and you don’t speak up against the oppression of people who are in the same classes as you, in the same vicinity as you…I really hope that where we go from here is that this is a wakeup call for people,” Harris said. “I really hope people can look at this—especially in the back door of Wash. U.—and not just think ‘Oh, I’m scared to walk down the street right now.’ Maybe think about the fear that black people experience every day.”