ST. LOUIS (AP) — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is reaching out to black faith leaders in St. Louis in advance of a judge's ruling in a former police officer's murder trial, saying the time for dialogue is now.
The Republican governor met Monday with several dozen people gathered at Washington Metropolitan AME Zion Church.
"Too often in the past in Missouri, leaders have waited for pain to visit us before we make a decision to visit with each other," Greitens said. "Too often in our country, leaders have waited for sirens to be blaring and people to be screaming before we decide that it's time to sit down and talk. And of course then it's just hard to hear each other above the noise."
Former St. Louis officer Jason Stockley's trial ended last month, but Judge Timothy Wilson has yet to rule. The shooting of a black suspect by a white officer reignited racial tensions in a region still healing from the 2014 fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Activists have threatened civil disobedience that could include shutting down highways, airports or businesses if Stockley is acquitted in the 2011 death of Anthony Lamar Smith. Barricades have been placed around two downtown courthouses and the police station.
The threats have the region on edge for a possible repeat of the sort of protests that went on for months in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, three years ago. Brown, who was black and unarmed, was fatally shot by white Ferguson officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014. A St. Louis County grand jury in November 2014 declined to indict Wilson, who resigned that month.
The handling of the Ferguson protests drew critics from both sides. Some felt then-Gov. Jay Nixon should have been more aggressive in bringing in the National Guard to stop looting and violence. Others felt the militarized response by police fanned the anger of protesters.
During the gubernatorial campaign last fall, Greitens was highly critical of Nixon's response in Ferguson.
Greitens said during a visit to suburban St. Louis last week that the rights of peaceful protesters will be protected after the Stockley ruling, but violence will not be tolerated. He said at the time that use of the National Guard is an option if protests turn violent.
Stockley's fatal encounter with Smith, 24, began when Stockley and his partner tried to corner Smith in a fast-food restaurant parking lot after seeing what appeared to be a drug deal. Stockley testified that he saw what he believed was a gun, and his partner yelled "gun!" as Smith backed into the police SUV twice to get away.
Dashboard camera video during the chase captured Stockley, saying, "Going to kill this (expletive deleted), don't you know it." Defense attorney Neil Bruntrager said it was a heat-of-the-moment comment that came after Smith nearly ran over the officers.
Prosecutors also alleged that Stockley planted a gun in Smith's car after he shot him. They said the gun had Stockley's DNA on it, but not Smith's.
Stockley, 36, who left the police force in 2013 and moved to Houston, denied that he planted the gun. He testified that he felt he was in imminent danger when he opened fire.