Four St. Louis Cops Shot, 7-Eleven Burns After Day of Peaceful Protests

click to enlarge The crowd gathers downtown. - photo by Theo Welling
photo by Theo Welling
The crowd gathers downtown.

A long day of peaceful marches and civil disobedience in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota was followed by a chaotic night of fires, looting and whizzing bullets in downtown St. Louis.

Police Chief John Hayden says four of his officers were shot near 16th and Olive streets, just around the corner where people ransacked and torched a 7-11. Early Tuesday morning, St. Louis County police shot a man who they say opened fire on them in Jennings after they picked up a pursuit that began in the the City of St. Louis. Police weren't sure if the 21-year-old man would survive.

"We're trying to figure out what is going on, how can this be?" an emotional Hayden told reporters early Tuesday morning, summing up the late-night chaos. "Mr. Floyd was killed somewhere else, and they're tearing up cities all across the country."

As many as two thousand people gathered Monday afternoon in downtown St. Louis, one of more than 140 cities across the country where people have been protesting police abuse since video of Floyd's death began circulating. The footage shows Minneapolis cops holding him down on the ground with one officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes, including nearly three minutes after Floyd's body went limp.

In St. Louis, the killing — Chauvin has been charged with manslaughter and third-degree murder — rekindled long-running tensions with police. Protest organizers led a massive group down city streets to the Arch, where demonstrators gathered in a circle and asked those who'd experience police abuse to step forward, followed by people who've had family abused by police — continuing through a list of questions, drawing in more and more people.

The crowd then took over Interstate 64, marching west as traffic was brought to a standstill before exiting in the Downtown West neighborhood. Shortly before 8 p.m., organizers called an end to the day. Most of the crowd cleared out after that. Leaders of the demonstrations, who have urged peace, have often made a point of marking a finite end to protests, a practice that stretches back to actions in Ferguson in 2014 and the uprising that followed the 2017 acquittal of ex-police officer Jason Stockley in the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith.

Photographer Theo Welling, who covered the protest for the Riverfront Times, says a smaller group moved on to Poelker Park across from City Hall. Hayden says maybe 200 remained into the night, vandalizing businesses, shooting fireworks at police and throwing rocks. Across Tucker Boulevard from the park, people smashed out windows in a pair of St. Louis Sheriff's vans.

During a clash outside police headquarters officers launched tear gas for the first time, and the rest of the night was filled with off-and-on skirmishes, punctuated by stinging smoke, fireworks and bursts of gunfire.

Hayden says an unseen shooter fired at officers between 15th and 16th streets and Olive Street. One officer was hit in the arm, one in the foot and two in their legs. The officers were off to the side of the main skirmish lines and never heard the shots before they were struck, according to the chief. None of the wounds was considered life-threatening.

"Some coward fired shots at officers, and now we have four in the hospital," Hayden said, getting choked up. "Thank God, they're alive. They're alive."

The 7-11 at the corner of 17th and Pine streets was closed and the doors chained shortly when people smashed inside sometime about 9:30 p.m. The store was looted and then set afire. The fire department was slow to respond, delayed until law enforcement could provide security and temporarily blocked by obstacles dragged into the roadways.

Multiple fires burned in the streets throughout the late-night clashes, including a literal dumpster fire on Pine. But not everyone was involved in the destruction. One man brought out a fire extinguisher and started spraying the flaming trash.

About 2:30 a.m., city police officers responded to reports of looting near Natural Bridge Avenue and Union Boulevard, and someone started firing on them from a maroon Chevrolet Impala, authorities say. Officers chased the Impala north on Interstate 70, and St. Louis County responded, following the sedan onto a dead end road in Jennings. Three people bolted out of the car, and one fired on police before an officer shot him, county police say.

The 21-year-old's wounds were described as "life-threatening." A 25-year-old was also arrested and the third person escaped on foot, police say.

The officer is 39 years old with five years experience. Police say they recovered two guns from the scene.

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