Communities Creating Opportunity condemns the ruling of St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson in the trial of former police officer Jason Stockley, who is responsible for killing Anthony Lamar Smith, an African American. Stockley was found not guilty.
We believe Judge Wilson partly based his decision on pre-conceived biases. Although Officer Stockley, while in pursuit of Smith, said on video that he was going to kill Smith, the judge dismissed this as irrelevant to what followed. “People say all kinds of things in the heat of the moment or while in stressful situations.” Therefore Stockley’s statement couldn’t possibly be evidence for an “intentional killing following deliberation.” Judge Wilson chooses to forget that high stress can be a predicate of murder, not just a factor that makes one say things one does not mean. CCO does not believe that the criminal justice system would be so kind were the roles reversed. Had Smith threatened to kill Stockley, we believe that would have been taken into account as evidence of his guilt after Stockley was gunned down. The police are most always given the benefit of the doubt in American courts, people of color quite rarely.
Further, concerning the controversy of whether Stockley (who was found to be carrying an unauthorized rifle in his vehicle) planted a revolver in Smith’s car, Judge Wilson writes, “The Court observes, based on its nearly thirty years on the bench, that an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly.” The police testified that narcotics were found in Smith’s car alongside the gun. CCO believes that judges should stick solely to the evidence of the case, not project historic trends, perceived or factual, on to current cases, infecting verdicts with assumptions. We also know that “urban” is a term almost exclusively used to describe black people, and caution judges, and all people, against the bias of language.
It is this kind of situation -- an officer saying he would kill someone, doing so, and going unpunished -- that makes people of color feel as if they are not valued in our society. It breeds animosity and distrust toward the police.
Trust in the criminal justice system can never be restored without justice. Missouri, and the nation as whole, needs a criminal justice system that does not show preference to either side in a case, whether individual or institution. We know police officers who kill in the line of duty are almost never convicted, while at the same time knowing human beings often make mistakes -- and retain implicit or overt biases against people of color. Justice is vital; justice is demanded. Prosecutors in this case even argued for less severe homicide charges -- any form of justice! Even the police department tacitly acknowledged wrongdoing by firing Stockley after the incident. Yet today Stockley walks free.
When is the time for justice, America? The time is NOW.