St. Louis Police Protesters Cash in as City Issues Settlement Checks

(Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

Welcome to St. Louis, land of the Cardinals, the Gateway Arch, “toasted ravs,” and now a precedent-setting cash settlement involving police protesters and a progressive city government seemingly all too happy to dish out checks. The $4.9 million settlement stems from a protest in September of 2017, where a white police officer, Jason Stockley, was acquitted in the shooting death of a black man, Anthony Lamar Smith. Protesters of the acquittal claim that police surrounded roughly 120 people who St. Louis Police say did not follow orders to disperse. Others who were at the protest say that police used excessive force and used pepper spray on people who were in the vicinity of the protest but were not actually protesting. The class-action lawsuit was brought by protesters who claimed that their right to protest was violated when police surrounded them in what is known as a “kettle” and arrested everyone inside the surrounded area.

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The first checks from the settlement went out last week to around 84 people. Actual amounts of the checks were not known. The city has denied any wrongdoing in the case but said that payouts could range anywhere from $28,000 to $150,000. Three other people filed individual lawsuits that were settled at a cost of roughly $85,000. The 2017 protest has been a costly one for St. Louis. Former St. Louis Detective Luther Hall sued the city for $5 million and won. Hall was working undercover the night of the protest when he was beaten by several fellow officers who mistook him for a protester. An internal investigation into Hall’s beating was reopened in June.

Settlement recipients began showing up to pick up checks last week at a downtown St. Louis law firm. Several of them had positive uses in mind for the money they received. One woman said she wanted to invest part of the money and set some aside for her children. Another protester, Ali Bey, said he planned to start his own construction company. He stated, “This takes five steps out of the way for me. As far as getting a truck and tools, I can begin doing that by the end of the day. I already got some of the clientele.”

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But while one person may be setting money aside for her children to perhaps go to college one day, and another plans on creating a job not just for himself but for others as well, what kind of precedent does protesters being able to make money from protesting set? Will protesting become the norm in American cities if it is thought there is a buck to be made? St. Louis and the surrounding region do not have the population base or the tax base that places like New York City and Los Angeles have. How many lawsuits of this kind can a city the size of St. Louis withstand? In 2010, St. Louis had a population just over 319,000. By July 2022, that number had plummeted to 286,578, a loss of almost 33,000 residents. That is a lot of tax revenue lost. Why are so many people leaving? Like a lot of other cities, crime in St. Louis has been on the rise. Also of note, like other large American cities, St. Louis has not had a Republican mayor since 1949. Chances are, many of the things that protesters would like to see changed won’t be fixed any time soon.

Just one other question: Will all types of protest be able to become money-making ventures or just certain ones? It is probably a sure bet that no one carrying a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag is picking up a check in the near future.

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