For the Rev. Clinton Stancil, of Wayman AME Church, the Jason Stockley trial was a chance for a do-over. Three years ago, religious leaders in the St. Louis area stumbled through their response to the police killing of Michael Brown in 2014 and the weeks of violent protest that followed. They were slow to engage with the young protesters who were out in the streets; by the time they did, their calls for peace and calm were often met with complaints that they were old and out of touch.
Last week, with the verdict looming in yet another killing of a black man by a white cop — Stockley shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011, after a car chase — Stancil was eager to take another approach.
He and his fellow clergy members wanted to be more organized in their response, should Stockley be acquitted. And they preemptively rejected the requests of state officials that they help keep a lid on protests, saying they would stand solidly with demonstrators rather than tell them what to do. “Any decision rendered by you other than a guilty verdict will make you liable for any ensuing unrest or acts of aggression,” Stancil said in a statement signed by several other local clergy. “In biblical terms, ‘The blood will be on your hands.’”
On Friday, VICE News Tonight was there with Stancil as Stockley was found not guilty — and as the ensuing protests that day turned into violence that night.