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Faith leaders and elected officials speak out about police response to Galleria protest

RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Mo. – A group of St. Louis-area church and elected leaders accused police of inciting riots at the Galleria Mall in Richmond Heights.

The group held a news conference Monday calling for the U.S. Department of Justice, the State of Missouri, and the St. Louis County Council to investigate police actions.

Three Missouri State representatives, two St. Louis aldermen, a St. Louis County Council member, pastors and a protester who was the mall Saturday, spoke at the event.

“A police riot broke out, but let me be clear: it was terrorism,” said Rev. Karen Anderson, Ward Chapel AME Church in Florissant.

Police responded with far too much force, members of the group said.

Police gave this account: one protester threw a garbage can and others began blocking an escalator. Mall management wanted them removed; most of the protesters dispersed. After three police orders to disperse, police arrested 22 protesters who refused to go. Charges included trespassing, rioting, assault on a law enforcement officer, and resisting arrest.

Photos from our news partners at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch show a woman on the back of an officer. Another photo shows another officer responding to that with his hand around the woman’s neck.

“[It] almost looked like he had a damn smile [on his face],” said St. Louis 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad. “I would like to reverse that picture, instead of her, me being there, instead of his hand my throat, my hand on his throat. I’d probably have a smile on face, too. It only speaks to the real need of police accountability.”

“All of a sudden there was a police whistle and the police rushed us and started grabbing people. My son was probably the fourth, fifth, or sixth person who was grabbed,” said protester Marjorie Theodore, who described the protest as “peaceful and happy” before authorities moved in. “The officer yelled at him as he reached and grabbed my son, pulled him and said, ‘You’re under arrest.’”

Organizers of the news conference claimed those arrested were denied access to medicine while detained, even though one tweet thanked St. Louis County police for helping a protester get his medication.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar released a statement saying, in part:

“The St. Louis County Police Department has used an incredible amount of discretion during these periods of civil unrest…any use of force that occurred…has been documented and will be reviewed…False narratives should not be purported without facts and is not helpful.”

At the news conference – they went back to the photos – and demanded investigations into police conduct.

Police did not use mace or tear gas.

There were no serious injuries and no one had filed a formal complaint against police as of Monday afternoon, police said.