After three weeks of protests at the Florissant Police Department, nearly 50 riot police used mace and flash bangs on a group who had gathered there Tuesday, June 23 to demand that officer Joshua Smith be convicted on the first-degree assault charges against him. Smith was seen on a video clip released by Real STL News running over a Black man in his unmarked police SUV on June 2. After the vehicle runs down the man, Smith is seen on video proceeding to punch and kick him. The protest group demanded that Smith’s two coworkers who had been riding with him at the time of the incident have their employment with the Florissant Police Department terminated, and that they also be charged.
Although the St. Charles County prosecutor Tim Lohmar charged Smith with first-degree assault earlier this week, he announced Wednesday that he will not be pursuing charges against the other two officers. One of those officers is Timothy Swope, the son of County prosecutor Wesley Bell’s director of operations, while the other’s name is unknown. Florissant Police Chief Timothy Fagan said last week that the two have been suspended with pay.
In a second video released by the victim’s attorneys, Swope and the other, a yet unnamed detective, are seen darting out of the SUV. They are not seen participating in the assault on the victim, nor do they render assistance. In the video, the detectives run off in pursuit of other individuals who fled from the same vehicle the police had been chasing and that the victim exited.
On Wednesday, as the protesters reassembled, news emerged from the Florissant Police Department that the two officers who were with Smith at the time would not be fired. While Smith himself was fired from the Florissant police force last week, the two officers riding along with him were to continue their employment.
Protest leader Bishop Derrick Robinson said that, to him, this was an example of how police are held to different standards from everyone else. “If I was in a vehicle, and me, my son, and somebody else were in the vehicle, and we hit a pedestrian that just crossed the road at the wrong place--everybody in that vehicle is going to jail,” Robinson told the crowd. “We’ve got to keep applying pressure to them, because they playing with us, y’all.”
The group marched down Lindbergh before turning and pausing at the back entrance of the Police Department around 8:00 PM. The group then circled back around to the front entrance of the Police Department – and gathered by the concrete barricades the department had set up in their driveway. The barricades were freshly painted grey to cover up anti-police graffiti from the night before.
The middle lane of Lindbergh also sported a new coat of paint, for the fourth time in as many days. Each night, the group chalked out the letters BLACK LIVES MATTER in front of the precinct, traced those letters with duct tape, and painted them in. By early the next morning, the letters were painted over. Wednesday was no exception. As the protest blocked the road and advanced to the foot of the precinct driveway, a smaller group hung back to chalk and tape the road again.
Across the street behind them, organizers announced over a loudspeaker that the medic tent was ready to help anyone pepper sprayed or hit with mace should they need it. But by 9:00 PM, riot police still had not emerged from the precinct. That changed when a middle-aged white man, identifying himself only as a “small business owner,” walked up to the protesters to tell them “small businesses don’t want you here, we don’t want you closing the streets like this.”
“But this [expletive] costing us our lives!” a protester responded. The argument continued for several minutes.
Members of the group began chanting “GO HOME” at the man, who then backed up towards the police department entrance. At around 9:30 PM, officers came out for the first time all night in order to escort the man off the premises.
As the heckler left the precinct grounds escorted by policemen, about two dozen officers in riot gear emerged. They formed a line that caused protesters to fall back and link arms. An organizer told the group to be careful.
“Yesterday, they rushed around the corner and maced us,” the organizer said. “You gotta be prepared for that. I need you all to not throw things! We don’t want to antagonize them!”
A standoff ensued – and continued for 20 minutes.
At around 10:15 p.m., the riot police returned inside the precinct.
Protests are planned to continue most nights, including Thursday night. Many protesters --like organizer Elijah Foggy,19, —have expressed determination to power through exhaustion in order to keep going out and assembling at the police department until the two officers who rode with Smith are fired and charged.
“I would say, a lot of the energy comes from--the people who come out here give me energy, I feed off of their energy,” Foggy said. “So, the fact that the two officers get to keep their jobs, it enrages me as well. So, I convert that anger into energy.”