ST. LOUIS – Governor Eric Greitens announced in a press release Thursday afternoon he is ready to send the National Guard to St. Louis in preparation of the verdict of the case of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was killed by white police officer Jason Stockley.
Stockley allegedly killed Smith from just six inches away and planted a gun in Smith’s car, according to a St. Louis prosecutor. The verdict is expected to come out Friday afternoon. Stockley waived his right to a jury trial
“As Governor, I am committed to protecting everyone’s constitutional right to protest peacefully while also protecting people’s lives, homes, and communities. Taking the steps to put the Missouri National Guard on standby is a necessary precaution,” Greitens said.
When Greitens was campaigning for governor, he vowed to do a better job of handling race relations and future protests, repeatedly saying former Governor Jay Nixon handled the response to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson poorly.
“The Missouri National Guard may be needed to help protect critical infrastructure and free up civilian law enforcement to protect people’s right to protest peacefully,” the release explained. “These resources take time to get ready. The Missouri National Guard is preparing now to keep people safe.”
Monday, Greitens traveled to a historically black church in St. Louis, hoping to quell the racial tensions in St. Louis. At the event, he advocated police officers in Missouri are not being adequately protected. The church was located in House District 78, which is represented by Rep. Bruce Franks. Franks, despite not being invited, heard Greitens was coming to his district and attended.
At the event, Franks spoke candidly, saying Greitens did not understand the racial environment in Missouri. For Franks, when Greitens says that he wants to “protect everyone,” it is empty rhetoric. Should Greitens want to ease racial tensions in St. Louis, Franks says he feels the biggest step he can take is to meet with protestors and members of the black community.
“We keep having these meetings, but we aren’t meeting with the front line protestors who are here each and every day,” Franks said. “We have protestors and we have folks who feel unsafe and unprotected already. What are we going to do about that? It shows how unengaged [Greitens] actually is to a community. I want you to show me that you care about black lives and you care about keeping black lives safe even from the hands of law enforcement.”
At the church, Franks said Greitens appeared to be uncomfortable during the meeting. Individual members of the church, including one white activist, challenged Greitens on his commitment to Missourians and to community safety. When Franks had an opportunity to speak, Franks said members of event attempted to stop the event so he could not. Nevertheless, Franks addressed what he referred to as “the governor’s apparent apathy to police violence” and to the senseless deaths of black Missourians.
When the event was over, Greitens made his way around the room to talk to Franks, which led to a heated response from Franks.
“At one point, we were talking and I was very emotional about what I was talking about,” Franks said. “He reached out to grab my shoulder and I said, ‘Don’t do that. Don’t grab my shoulder because if I touch you, Secret Service is going to try to jump over the table and [arrest me].”
Greitens could not be immediately reached for comment.
Following the event, Franks took to Facebook to talk about the social inequities he believes are involved in the Stockley murder trial. In it, he voiced frustration that Greitens would have the audacity to claim he represents black Missourians as he does white Missourians.
“If you know you haven’t been in the community, if you know you haven’t truly represented your community, don’t speak for us,” Franks said in the video. “You cannot. Do yourself a favor, do not speak for us. You cannot speak for us… You haven’t effectively funneled resources, you haven’t come up with effective programs.”
In the video, Franks recounts a conversation he’s had with a protestor who feels Greitens is more concerned with protecting property than human lives in St. Louis. He says militarized police are being called to a city to protect inanimate objects rather than black folks.
Franks said the activist told him, “I’d rather be a building than a person protesting.”
Yet, despite Franks’ experiences, he said wants Missourians everywhere to show solidarity for black communities. He wants people to not only spread their message online but to be active offline, regardless of where people are.
“If you feel that there is injustice you should do something about it,” Franks said.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to show Franks reported the Governor seemed uncomfortable and other people at the church attempted to end the event.
Michael Layer is a reporter for the Missouri Times and the Missouri Times Magazine. He joined the Missouri Times in August 2017 after graduating from Goucher College the previous May. To contact Michael, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @_MichaelLayer