Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis said, “Violence only creates more violence,” in response to ongoing protests to the acquittal of a white police officer accused of murdering a black suspect.
Former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley was on trial for the first-degree murder of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith, a suspected drug dealer. Stockley shot Smith five times after a high-speed car chase. Prosecutors contended he then planted a gun in Smith’s car.
Dashcam video showed Stockley saying he was “going to kill this [expletive], don’t you know it,” before the shooting took place.
After the verdict was announced on Friday, people took to the streets to protest, and nearly three-dozen people were arrested on Friday night, with 11 police officers suffering injuries.
On Saturday night, protests turned violent again, and a mob threw objects at police, and broke windows of dozens of businesses.
“If we want peace and justice, we must come together as a community through prayer, mutual understanding, and forgiveness,” Carlson said in a statement. “While acknowledging the hurt and anger, we must not fuel the fires of hatred and division. We must ask God for peace in our own hearts and share it with those around us. Violence does not lead to peace and justice — they are opposing forces and cannot coexist.”
The archbishop implored people to choose peace, and to reject “the false and empty hope” that violence was a solution.
“Violence only creates more violence,” Carlson said. “We must work together for a better, stronger, safer community, one founded upon respect for each other, and one in which we see our neighbor as another self.”
Carlson is scheduled to join other faith leaders from the community for an interfaith prayer service for peace and solidarity on Sept. 19.
Smith’s death is just one of several high-profile U.S. cases in recent years in which a white officer killed a black suspect, including the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson that sparked months of angry and sometimes violent protests.
Fred Pestello, the president of the Jesuit-affiliated Saint Louis University, said he thinks the grief from this and other shootings “are still fresh in the hearts and minds” of many people in the community.
Several demonstrations took place in the area around the university.
In a statement issued the evening of the verdict, Pestello said he heard different reactions from students, staff, and faculty.
“I heard pain, hurt, anger, and grief over the acquittal. I heard their frustration was not solely about this particular outcome, but also about the complex historical and systemic injustice that makes them feel unwelcome,” he said.
“Further, I heard that while some felt the increased presence of public safety officers made them feel safer, others felt decidedly less safe because of the identities they hold,” Pestello added.
“I urge all of us to listen to each other — to consider how our individual realities, our safety, and our livelihood may look different from those with whom we go to classes, work alongside, or sit next to as we worship,” he said. “Only when we attempt to see the world through the eyes of others who are unlike us can we begin to accomplish the difficult work that needs to be done in order to heal the wounds that were once again reopened.”
Jesuit Father Christopher Collins, the university’s assistant to the president for mission and identity, went with several other clergy members to a protest site near the university to pray.
Collins told the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, that as a Jesuit, “you want to follow in a pastoral way — to be where people are hurting and to be present. We called on God’s love for all of us.”
The Department of Justice told the St. Louis Dispatch in an email they would not be pursuing a separate federal civil rights prosecution against Stockley, saying there was insufficient evidence.
The department made the decision a year ago, during the previous administration, but did not announce it at the time because the criminal trial was already underway.
This article incorporated material from the Associated Press.