St. Louis police giving room to protesters until trouble starts

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Demonstrators protest outside of the St. Louis city jail following the arrest of 123 people yesterday protesting the acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley on September 18, 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. This is the fourth day of protests in the city following the acquittal of Stockley, who had been charged with first-degree murder last year following the 2011 on-duty shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

ST. LOUIS (AP)  Police have given demonstrators in the latest St. Louis protests a wide berth.

Authorities are applying a lesson learned in nearby Ferguson to offer protesters room to have their say, at least until trouble starts. But critics complain that the tactic comes with an unjust catch: If vandalism or rock throwing begin, officers order crowds to disperse and block all exits.

The result, the critics say, is an arrest net that sweeps up journalists, bystanders and peaceful demonstrators.

The protests began Friday after a white former officer was acquitted in the death of a black drug suspect.

Criminologist David Klinger says officers face a difficult task. They don’t want to break up a protest without cause, but they must act quickly to protect people and property when things go awry.

By JIM SALTER, Associated Press