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St. Louis Police Use Twitter to Push Propaganda and Harass Protesters

Screenshot from Twitter and closeup of bottle marked "Apple Cider" that the St. Louis County Police Department claimed was "unknown chemicals". Apple cider vinegar is used to alleviate the symptoms of mace and pepper spray used by the police on protesters.

On September 15, 2017, St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson acquitted former St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley of a first-degree murder charge in the killing of 24-year-old Lamar Smith. In 2016, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch obtained and released videos from the 2011 shooting of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith, from which Former St. Louis Police officer Jason Stockley was charged with murder. The new videos showed Stockley exit his patrol car carrying a personal rifle, an unauthorized AK-47 style rifle, overtly violating St. Louis Police policy. Stockley killed Lamar Smith, then claimed a gun was found on him, but prosecutors only found Stockley’s DNA on the weapon. The video shows the former police officer rummaging through a duffel back in the backseat of his patrol car, likely to find a gun to plant on Smith. Prior to shooting Smith, Stockley said in a police dashcam video that he was “going to kill this motherf****r, don’t you know it.”

The verdict sparked protests and outrage across St. Louis, which have continued into this past weekend at the St. Louis Galleria. Since the protests began, the St. Louis Police Department’s actions have been appalling, symptomatic of a force in which an officer like Jason Stockley felt within his authority to kill an unarmed black man.

On September 16, the St Louis Police Department tweeted out the names and addresses of 33 protesters arrested, in a childish attempt to doxx and shame them. The practice raises concerns that the police are posing their own judgment on the protesters before a court decides on whether to convict them on the charges, circumventing due process and the rights that are supposed to be granted to American Citizens in our criminal justice system: innocent until proven guilty. For a police department that should be working to regain public trust after a high-profile police killing of an unarmed St. Louis citizen, posts like these only further eradicate said trust.

On September 17, the St. Louis County Police Department tweeted out a photo with a false claim that: “Officers confiscate bottles with unknown chemicals used to [sic] against police tonight in downtown.” In the picture, it was clear the bottles were marked “apple cider,” referring to apple cider vinegar, which is used to alleviate the symptoms of mace and pepper spray used by the police on protesters.

On September 18, the Washington Post reported police in St. Louis chanted “whose streets, our streets,” while arresting protesters, a disturbing sign of authoritarianism. On the same day, despite being paid overtime, the St. Louis Police Union used the protests to solicit donations for officers and the union from supporters who favored the police over the protesters.

During the most recent protests at a mall in St. Louis, police from St. Louis and St. Louis County pushed narratives smearing and harassing protesters, including trying to push back against criticism for a police officer choking and slamming a grandmother, Rev. Dr. Karla Frye, who was trying to help her 13-year-old son who was being choked by a police officer at the protests. The St. Louis County Police Department retweeted a claim from a local journalist that a trash can thrown by a protester started the violent scene between police and protesters, but a video from a local Fox News affiliate shows an older woman having trouble tipping over a trash can by an escalator, hardly the violent scene propagated by the police.

This photo shows a police officer choking the abovementioned 13-year-old, who is reportedly asthmatic:

The police have been immensely criticized for their excessive tactics in handling the protests, inciting a civil rights lawsuit by the ACLU. A press release from the ACLU noted, “The ACLU lawsuit focuses on police misconduct using chemical weapons, interfering with video of police activity and violating due process during Sunday night’s ‘kettling’ incident in downtown St. Louis.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has demanded charges against one of its journalists be dropped for covering the protests. Post-Dispatch Editor Gilbert Bailon said in an article published by the paper on September 21, “When St. Louis police arrested Mike, after he fully identified himself while covering the protests, they violated basic tenets of our democracy. Additionally, the physical abuse he suffered during the arrest is abhorrent and must be investigated. The Post-Dispatch is calling for our city leaders to immediately implement policies that will prevent journalists from being arrested without cause.”

On September 26, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the St. Louis Police Department, in their haste to violently assault protesters, managed to beat and arrest an undercover officer:

That incident began when two uniformed officers near the protest ordered the man to show his hands, sources said. When he refused, they knocked him down and hit him at least three times and zip tied his hands behind his back. When he stood up, his mouth was bloodied, the sources said.

The protests in St. Louis are ongoing, and the false narratives, and antagonizing rhetoric from the St. Louis Police are unlikely to subside as a supplement to these excessive police tactics against protesters and bystanders.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Jason Stockley’s acquittal was by a judge. An earlier version incorrectly stated that the acquittal was by a jury. Stockley waived his right to a trial by jury.

Written by Michael Sainato

Michael Sainato

Michael Sainato is a freelance journalist based in Gainesville, Florida. His writing has been featured in the Guardian, Miami Herald, Denver Post, The Hill, Observer, Truth-Out, and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @msainat1.

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St. Louis Police Use Twitter to Push Propaganda and Harass Protesters