One Year After Mike Brown Was Killed, St. Louis County Still Doesn't Know How to Handle Protests


ST. LOUIS -- One year ago, the world watched as militarized police aimed their weapons at civilians protesting the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The widespread use of tear gas and other tactics sparked a national conversation on the harsh police treatment of the mostly peaceful protesters. Despite scrutiny, including a Department of Justice report critiquing the involved police departments' use of force, they do not seem to have changed their ways in handling protests.

A day after the one-year anniversary of Brown's death, police arrested more than 140 protesters, many of whom say they were mistreated. Activists and clergy were participating in "Moral Monday" events across the St. Louis region to bring attention to issues of racial inequity and police brutality.

"It's sad and horrible. Because by now, you would've thought we had at least gained some kind of collaboration, and police would have grown some more sensibility with the community," Bishop Derrick Robinson told The Huffington Post last week about police response to protests.

One demonstration led to 63 arrests as activists shut down a highway on the border of St. Louis County and St. Charles County, which is the 91 percent white.

At first, police stood on the highway’s shoulder, allowing protesters to block traffic. However, after approximately 20 minutes of protest chants, an SUV bulldozed through the hand-locked activists.

The St. Louis County Police Department says protesters damaged the SUV and punched the driver. Officers later arrested protest organizers Alexis Templeton and Brittany Ferrell in connection with the incident. Both are co-founders of the grassroots organization Millennial Activists United and helped organize the highway shutdown.

Officers suddenly arrested the protest leaders outside the St. Louis County Justice Center as they waited for others to be released following previous bookings.

St. Louis County police charged Ferrell with trespassing, peace disturbance and a class-D felony of property damage, which included a $10,000 bond. She faces four years of jail time for allegedly kicking the SUV. Templeton was charged with three misdemeanors, trespassing, peace disturbance and third-degree assault.

Templeton said via Twitter that police obtained a warrant to seize her phone during her arrest.

In a Facebook post, Ferguson activist Rev. Traci Blackmon said arrest from the civil disobedience demonstration was expected. But she suggested that if Templeton and Ferrell were facing punishment, so should the driver of the SUV. "Attempting to run protesters over with a car is a crime,” she said.

Police also arrested other demonstrators and charged them with interference. An American Civil Liberties Union legal observer said he was wrongfully arrested after the highway shutdown protest, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Cristin Murphy, 30, a special education teacher from Minnesota, also participated in the highway protest. Murphy says arrests didn’t begin until people were inside cars or making their way to their vehicles.

Murphy says she was inside her car with the doors locked when police approached.

“They were pounding on the window. One pulled out his baton and started banging on the window. He said, 'We’ll break the window if we need to.' So I unlocked the door, opened it and got out.”

Murphy told HuffPost that she and other protesters sat in a parking lot for three hours until a bus came to retrieve them.

“He arrested me and put me in zip-tie cuffs. At one point I said, 'It really hurts,' and that’s when he pulled it a little bit tighter. I did end up with bruises and cuts on my wrists,” said Murphy.

From the bus, the activists were sent to a police academy, where Murphy says some sat for as long six hours with their wrists zip-tied behind their back. It was here that Murphy had her cuffs changed from behind her back to in front of her.

“They tried to make us sign all the forms with our hands behind our back in cuffs,” said Murphy.

It wasn’t until the arrestees were transported to the St. Louis County Justice Center that they were able to relieve themselves, says Murphy.

“We got arrested around 5:30 p.m. I didn’t have access to a bathroom until 6:50 a.m.,” Murphy told HuffPost.

Murphy and others were detained for a total of 22 hours. Some had zip-ties on their wrists the entire time.

"At this point there is no sensitivity at all. It lets us know that Ferguson still needs a lot of work," Mike Lhotak, and activist who participated in the highway shutdown, said last week in an interview with HuffOost. A viral video captured by The St. Louis American shows Lhotak, 28, being slammed to the ground by a police officer after refusing to leave the highway. Lhotak, who is white, stayed on the highway after police tried to clear the area because “the goal was to make sure none of the black activists were arrested.”

Bishop Derrick Robinson has been organizing Ferguson protests over the past year. In an interview with HuffPost last week, Robinson said he was expecting police behavior for the upcoming weekend to be no different from prior protests.

"In the beginning, they are going to be very resistant. But I believe as we approach Sunday and Monday, they're going to begin to be a little more aggressive, possibly under advisement," Robinson predicted then.

His predictions of the police response were correct. Friday and Saturday nights mostly remained calm. There were no lines of intimidating police or armored military-grade vehicles -- a tactic the DOJ report said had helped incite riots last year. Instead there were floodlights outside of the Ferguson PD, and a chaplain hired by the city of Ferguson to talk with police and protesters.

The laid-back police response came to an end on Sunday night, when police once again deployed tear gas and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger issued a state of emergency order for the region.

Murphy explained that the highway shutdown was intended to provoke discomfort.

“The reason we wanted you to feel that discomfort is because this is the discomfort we feel on the daily basis," Murphy said. "We’re literally being inconvenienced by police officers because we’re being racially profiled."

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