ST. LOUIS – A protest forced a large suburban St. Louis shopping mall to close for an hour on the day after Thanksgiving, one of the year’s busiest shopping days, and renewed concerns by protest leaders about how police handle demonstrations.
Protesters marched Friday at the St. Louis Galleria mall. Richmond Heights, Missouri, police said in a statement that seven people were arrested for failure to disperse. One of the seven also was cited for assaulting an officer.
Police didn’t release the names of those arrested. But protesters said state Rep. Bruce Franks Jr. was among them. Activist Darryl Gray said protesters were leaving when police forced a man to the ground. Gray said Franks tried to intervene on the man’s behalf and was pushed to the ground, too, and arrested.
Franks and Gray are leaders of the protest movement that began in September after former St. Louis officer Jason Stockley, who is white, was acquitted in the death of a black suspect, Anthony Lamar Smith, in 2011.
Several protests have occurred, with more than 300 people arrested. Police in St. Louis and its suburbs have been accused of using chemicals too quickly, roughing up protesters and taunting them.
The U.S. Department of Justice said Monday it has launched an investigation into how police have handled the demonstrations. The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri also has sued over the issue.
The Galleria has been the site of earlier protests, including one in September when nearly two dozen people were cited.
Gray, a pastor, said police were “overly aggressive and they were brutal,” in the latest Galleria arrests.
“They asked us to disperse and we were leaving,” he said. “We had a shopper not even in our crowd chanting in support of us. Police turned around and grabbed a black guy who was chanting.”
Gray said the man was taken to the ground by police. When Franks tried to intervene, he also was forced to the ground and arrested, Gray said.
“He had not touched anyone,” Gray said of Franks.
Richmond Heights police did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment beyond the statement.
Prior to the arrests, protesters marched through the mall, one of the largest in the St. Louis region, chanting “Shut it down!” and “These killer cops have got to go,” according to the police statement.
Protesters have made it clear that impacting the local economy is part of the strategy to get their message heard. Several protests have occurred at malls and in shopping and dining districts, and a large U2 concert in St. Louis was canceled in September due to protest concerns.
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