Americans place the utmost value on our freedoms, which is why at protest after protest across the country, civic leaders repeatedly express their commitment to ensuring the “safety” of those gathering to protest. It is our constitutionally protected right as citizens of this great country to assemble and speak out in public on any issue, free from government intervention.
In times past, that assemblage has resulted in sweeping shifts in public opinion leading to tangible change. But I don’t see that change in sentiment occurring in St. Louis.
After four days of sustained violent protests in and around the city of St. Louis, we experienced one night of calm last Tuesday. Wednesday night the protesters were back. The ramifications of supporters of the Anthony Smith family not accepting the Jason Stockley verdict continue to reverberate across the community. Businesses have sustained lower foot traffic as parents keep their children home—only venturing out for the necessities.
On the first night of violence, 11 police officers were injured and property damage was left in the so-called peaceful protesters’ wake.On the first night of violence, 11 police officers were injured and property damage was left in the so-called peaceful protesters’ wake. Concerts and sporting events were cancelled; businesses downtown closed their doors. Democrat Mayor Lyda Krewson, who backs the protest movement, had her personal residence vandalized as recompense for her support. And more than 100 protesters have been arrested in an effort to regain peace and quell destruction of property.
But do these protests really accomplish anything of value? At first glance, the disruption appears to make a compelling statement: Thousands of people care deeply about what they feel is unwarranted and disproportionate violence. But in a majority of the cases, the stories don’t line up with that assertion.
In this instance, Smith initiated the altercation by hitting the police cruiser with his car twice, backing up while attempting to flee. Smith hit Officer Brian Bianchi as he drove past him, leading officers Shockley and Bianchi on a three-minute high-speed chase, which ended just as Smith attempted to drive into oncoming traffic. Had Smith succeeded, innocent drivers might have been killed that day. During the high-speed chase, Shockley declared that they would kill the suspects. Of course, this was highly inappropriate, but doesn’t negate the nature of the interaction.
Once they immobilized Smith’s vehicle, the suspects continued to disobey direct orders, and Shockley fired into the vehicle, killing Smith. All of this happened in 2011, three years before the Mike Brown incident, which spawned riots of its own. It’s worth noting that the Department of Justice under Attorney General Eric Holder twice declined to prosecute Shockley for civil rights violations.
Over the past 10 years, St. Louis has lost nearly 30 Fortune 500 corporate headquarters. We need that Amazon HQ.If it were true that Smith was killed unjustly in a gross miscarriage of justice, there is recourse available. We have an amazing civic system here in this country: If we don’t agree with the actions of elected judges, they can be voted out. But instead of enacting lasting change, the citizens of St. Louis are trapped in a cycle of protest violence where rioters and looters are actually costing the city jobs. Amazon is searching for a city to build its second headquarters, dubbed HQ2. The chosen city will receive up to 55,000 new jobs and greatly improved economic prospects. St. Louis was under consideration. But having the city besieged by rioters every time a verdict doesn’t go their way likely isn’t a lure for huge corporations.
Over the past 10 years, St. Louis has lost nearly 30 Fortune 500 corporate headquarters. This city needs that Amazon HQ.
There’s another issue that can never be addressed by these protests—the continued degradation in poverty-stricken urban areas. After four days and nights of sustained protests, guess whose lives are exactly the same as they were before? Pretty much everyone. Suburban residents haven’t changed their minds about anything other than feeling more resolute in their avoidance of anything having to do with the city of St. Louis, outside of sporting events and concerts.
Poor kids in substandard schools are still desperate for better, more stable living conditions and their own two parents at home. The police still want better relations with the communities that they are tasked to protect and serve. So the protests accomplished nothing of value except to permit a few thousand angry individuals room to destroy and vent their feelings. That’s another expensive temper tantrum.
There will always be room for constitutionally protected free speech, but we must no longer conflate protesting with rioting. Property damage doesn’t favorably sway public opinion, and without the greater public rallying to a cause, these invasive, violent protests are a waste of our time.
Stacy Washington is a decorated Air Force veteran, Emmy-nominated TV personality and host of nationally syndicated radio program “Stacy on the Right,” based in St. Louis. She loves God and guns, and is a member of the NRA, obviously.