September 15, 2017
Joint Statement by ArchCity Defenders, St. Louis Action Council and Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE)
On yet another day in which St. Louisans of conscience fill the streets to demand justice and accountability following the acquittal of Jason Stockley for the murder of Anthony Lamar Smith, we are called not only to denounce the continuing failure of the criminal legal system to show any regard for the taking of black life by police, but also to demand that local and state officials recognize the foundational right to protest under the First Amendment.
Already, many media pundits and so-called community leaders have begun to trot out tired refrains pre-emptively bemoaning “violence,” “destruction,” and “civil unrest,” calling instead for “peace.” True peace requires justice and there was nothing just about today’s verdict.
“Peace” is a luxury that was not afforded to Anthony Lamar Smith. Peace is a state that may elude Smith’s loved ones for the rest of their lives, as it eludes the families and communities of so many black men and women subjected to unaccountable state violence. To engage in protest and civil disobedience in the face of such injustice is not only reasonable and lawful; it is righteous.
While police have continued to perpetrate violence against unarmed civilians and peaceful protesters, the voices of the status quo would have you believe that the real threat is presented by those who resist. The optics of closed businesses, walled-off city buildings, and a highly militarized police force are merely staging for the City’s spin: the peaceful protesters are, in fact, the violent ones. While our communities grieve, they are demonized. While they stand in bold assertion of their constitutional rights, they are criminalized.
“We unequivocally reject the designation of any “free speech zone” by the Mayor or any other official of the City of St. Louis. The right to protest is embedded in our nation’s founding documents and the laws of the State of Missouri. While the First Amendment does not exist in a vacuum, it is also not subject to arbitrary limitations. Despite representations to the contrary by city officials, the United States of America is a free speech zone,” said Staff Attorney Blake Strode of ArchCity Defenders.
Even before the verdict was in, the Governor activated the use of the Missouri National Guard to frame peaceful protesters as a threat.
“State and local officials keep calling for peace, but instead of exemplifying peace, they are investing numerous resources to incite public fear and state violence. Peace in action does not look like the state funding the Missouri National Guard, 12-hour police shifts, and shutting down the economy downtown on the presumption of response by black protesters. We don’t see this response when non-black people are protesting.” said Kayla Reed, Organizer and Activist with St. Louis Action Council.
Due to misplaced fears of black rage, our state sees fit to call in its army of citizen soldiers to “protect” property interests while actively resisting real change that recognizes the dignity and worth of black lives. Who was there to protect Anthony Lamar Smith? Who will protect the hundreds of thousands of other black St. Louisans who fear that the very institutions who purport to serve them will kill them with impunity? Black Missourians can only dream to be protected as well as the state’s precious property.
Our resistance is our existence. No justice, no peace.
Z. Gorley, Communications Director at ArchCity Defenders