A voice stood out in the crowd, louder than any chant heard on Tucker and Market. Aideen O’ Brien, wearing a flat brimmed sun hat and a surgical mask, filled her lungs and shouted “Shame, Shame!” as police officers in blue shirts bike through the crowd of protesters. Her sign read, “Silence is Violence.”
Moments later, O’ Brien could barely see as she stumbled to move away from the wall of officers. The officers used pepper spray on protesters, like O’ Brien. She said, although it was surprising, the experience helped her have a clearer understanding of the situation.
“It was an experience that I think was necessary for me to have,” O’Brien said. “It cleared any illusion that my whiteness would protect me from police violence.”
Protests broke out in St. Louis following the trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley Friday, September 15. Stockley was accused of murder to the first-degree of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith in December 2011. The trial began August 1 and ended September 15 when Judge Wilson ruled Stockley not guilty.
According to CNN, Wilson cited the state’s inability to prove Stockley did not act in self-defense during his encounter with Smith as a reason for his verdict.
Activists in the St. Louis community threatened protests and acts of civil disobedience in the weeks leading up to the verdict. When Stockley was announced not guilty, protesters and activists took to the streets to express their disdain for the verdict. This led to an ongoing 5-day series of protests throughout the St. Louis region.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) has taken over 150 protesters into custody since September 15, according to the official STLMPD Facebook page.
Two of these protesters were Webster students Miranda Alexander and Makenna Burton. They were taken into police custody Friday afternoon following the first round of Stockley Trial protests.
SLMPD released both students later and said the incident did not result in an arrest record. Alexander said she was in police custody for 14 hours with no access to food, medical attention or water, except from the toilet in her cell.
“There was a period of time where me and another woman were put in a very small cell meant for only one person,” Alexander said. “There were feces and urine all over the walls. I just had to hold my nose and pace back and forth in that little small room.”
Webster University’s mission statement says Webster creates an environment accessible to individuals of diverse cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. This includes encouraging students to have a respect for diversity, inclusion and values different from their own.
Burton said Webster was the place that introduced her to the activism.
“As a Webster student, something we really value is community and I get that from these people,” Senior Makenna Burton said. “It’s important that community intersects with all different groups of people. If we don’t have justice for one group, we don’t have justice for anyone.”
Alexander said it is important Webster students understand this is not an isolated problem that we can avoid. She said by getting more Webster students out on the streets, she hopes they can better understand the results the protestors are trying to achieve.
As O’ Brien stood on the streets, still chanting with her sign coated in pepper spray, she said peaceful protests to express your beliefs is the new Webster.
“This is the evolved Webster, the one I think Webster should be and should represent,” O’ Brien said. “If we are for diversity, we have to not just talk the talk, but do the do.”