WASHINGTON -- On Thursday night, about 30 people gathered in the SEIU office on Pershing Avenue in St. Louis. What they had in common is they were all somehow involved in the protests over the shooting of Michael Brown, and they were all eventually caught up by the police and arrested.
While the arrests of journalists -- who are much less likely to face punishment or have their future career prospects damaged by an arrest record -- attracted a significant amount of attention, many less high-profile citizens have had to quietly figure out how to deal with the fallout from their own arrests.
The people who gathered Thursday were brought together by the advocacy group Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, which took it upon itself to provide jail support for individuals who had been taken in. Organizers set up a 24-hour phone line that people could call for help, created a fundraising website to help pay for legal support and provided rides and supplies to people when they were released from jail. The group is also putting people in touch with ArchCity Defenders and other legal groups for possible pro-bono representation.
Molly Gott, a community organizer with MORE, said the group's job now is to make sure that nobody forgets that there are individuals who were swept up by the police -- who were heavily criticized for being heavy-handed and arresting people without justification -- and now face municipal charges like "refusal to disperse."
"People spent a lot of time sharing their stories about when they were arrested, which was pretty powerful," said Gott. "[They] are definitely organizing to pressure Ferguson to drop their charges."
Gott said MORE is planning a public action for Tuesday night, when the Ferguson City Council is set to meet for the first time since the Aug. 9 killing of Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, by police officer Darren Wilson. The shooting sparked weeks of protests among Ferguson residents, who thought the shooting was unjustified and were fed up with not having a voice in the city. Although the majority of residents in Ferguson are black, most of the city's public officials are white.
MORE wants to make it clear to Ferguson city officials that there is significant public pressure to drop the low-level municipal charges that were slapped on protesters. But in the meantime, protesters are awaiting court dates -- or to find out whether they will be summoned at all. Many who were arrested received a "pending application of warrant," meaning they have to wait to know whether they will be charged with a crime. Some of them may not have been told they were released pending a warrant or may not have understood the term, meaning they might think they are home free and not realize that they could be called to court in the coming weeks.
Some people are still recovering from wounds that they said were caused by the police officers who arrested them, and others are attempting to retrieve property that they lost while when police picked them up.
More than 130 people were arrested between Aug. 13 and Aug. 22, during the height of the protests, for "refusal to disperse," but more were picked up as recently as this week.
Thomas Harvey, executive director of ArchCity Defenders, said the uncertainty takes a toll on poor individuals. Low-level municipal charges often result in something like a $1,000 fine or 90 days in jail.
"For the poor people, they're not going to be able to choose to resolve it with money, because they don't have the money. That's obviously going to be a lot more stressful for them, because they know they don't have a lot of choice," Harvey said. "If we don't represent them, it's going to be difficult for them to fund an attorney."
If you or someone you know was arrested during the Ferguson protests, please get in touch with us. We'd love to hear your story.
Below are some of the individuals arrested during the Ferguson protests. The Huffington Post conducted the interviews unless otherwise noted.
JOSHUA HAMPTON, 30, ARRESTED AUG. 17
Hampton and some friends were sitting in a car at 2 a.m. in his aunt's driveway, smoking cigarettes, after attending the protests on West Florissant Avenue earlier in the night. Although the midnight curfew had passed, Hampton believed he was following the law, because he was on private property. But cops arrested him anyway.
"They pulled up to my car with guns at the window," Hampton said, adding that he didn't know where he was supposed to disperse to since he was already on his aunt's property.
Hampton, who is from nearby Berkeley, said he was eventually released around 6 a.m. So far, he doesn't have a court date, but he was released on pending application of warrant.
"It kind of sucks, because I could be charged in the next 12 months," Hampton said.
He's also frustrated at the way the cops handled the arrest.
"When I got out at 6:00, my car was still running in my aunt's driveway," he said. "My windshield wipers were still going, my window was still down. The only thing was that they also locked up the lady that was parked behind my car, so her car blocked my car into the driveway. If her car had not been behind mine, my car could possibly have been stolen."
Hampton's phone, radio and valuable jewelry his girlfriend had left in the car were all missing when he got back. So far, he hasn't been able to figure out how to file a complaint about the items, and he has been told to simply go to the St. Louis County website and submit his message online.
TERRENCE WILLIAMS, 26, ARRESTED AUG. 17
Williams, a resident of Florissant, was shot with rubber bullets and arrested while protesting. He said he was walking in front of a group of people when they came upon police officers with an armored vehicle.
"First chance they got, no warning, no nothing, the guy told me to freeze. I put my hands up," said Williams. "The cop who told me to freeze had an M-16 in my face. ... I turned my back to him, because I'd rather you point it to my back than at my face. So I turned around. He had an M-16, so the guy next to him had to have been the one who shot me with the rubber bullets."
Williams said he felt the rubber bullets hit him twice. The bruising was so bad that he had to take off two days from his job installing cable.
"I couldn't even move. It was crazy and really uncalled for," he said.
Williams and six other men were held in a police vehicle in a nearby parking lot for seven hours. He said it was a scary experience because he had no idea why they weren't moving. Eventually, he was taken to the city of Clayton for processing and was released around 4:30 a.m. He then went straight to the emergency room and didn't end up returning to the protests.
"I stayed away," Williams said. "I had to miss two days of work ... It's not something that I was trying to prove a point, to go right back down there and take that chance and get shot again. I can't call my boss and say, 'Hey, I got shot again, I can't come to work.' That's crazy."
Williams was let off without a court date.
LUKE NEPHEW, 32, ARRESTED AUG. 20
Nephew traveled from the Bronx all the way to Ferguson to stand with the protesters there, saying it was important to him as a white man to show solidarity.
"[It was important] to say, 'This is my family,' and even though we've been divided along color lines for the entire history of this country, the onus to resist that and to stand with people of color is on each of us with light skin if we have that opportunity," he said.
Nephew is a member of a group called The Peace Poets and works with the Stolen Lives Project, which raises awareness of people killed by law enforcement.
He said that while he was out protesting, police tackled him, put him in the back of their vehicle and kept him there for an hour before he was moved for processing.
"When the police rushed the crowd, people started running, and I looked behind me, and I saw the police officer running directly at me," Nephew said. "So I started running. ... I was basically tackled, thrown to the ground. One of the police officers grabbed my head and hit it onto the concrete -- kind of smashed my face on the concrete, with my hands behind my back."
"I still have pretty bad bruises on the back of my legs," he added, "and they just jumped on the back of my legs and put all their weight on my neck and back of my head and my legs, with one knee on my spine. I was completely not resisting -- peaceful, unarmed."
Officers also took his iPhone, which he never got back. Nephew was released without a court date.
TAUREAN RUSSELL, 30, ARRESTED AUG. 20
Russell's arrest shortly after midnight landed him behind bars in three different jails over the next three days. Authorities shuttled him around on a series of driving-related bench warrants that were completely unrelated to the "refusal to disperse" charge on which he was initially taken in.
As The Huffington Post's Matt Sledge reported, Russell was caught up "in what some describe as a modern day version of the debtor's prison -- a criminal justice system that funds its operations by fining people for all sorts of violations and locking up those who are unwilling, or unable, to pay."
Russell said that while he was out protesting, police pointed at him and shouted "get him." He was then pushed to the ground, he said, and a white police officer called him a "n*gger."
The St. Louis region is made up of 91 different municipalities, all with their own separate justice systems. ArchCity Defenders has noted that some of these municipalities disproportionately charge and fine low-income individuals and people of color, and then jail them if they can't pay their fines. Taking fines from poor residents is also a "significant source of income" for towns like Ferguson.
After his arrest for the protests, Russell was caught up in this maze due to his driving-related offenses, which came with fines that he simply couldn't afford to pay on his limited income. MORE helped him pay off thousands of dollars worth of bonds, and Russell was finally let out of jail on Aug. 22.
FERGUSON RESIDENT, 25, ARRESTED AUG. 13
One Ferguson resident, who requested anonymity in order to freely share his story, still has no idea why he was arrested. He said he and friend had picked up some food and were standing off at a distance, simply observing what was going on, when police officers surrounded them and arrested them.
"Before I knew it, I was in handcuffs," he said. "I don't get in trouble. I'm in college. Getting incarcerated can put things in jeopardy a little bit. I'm about to graduate in December. I'm not doing nothing crazy to ruin that. I put a lot of work to get where I'm at. But before I know it, I was locked up. It was like, seven or eight other guys arrested for no reason. ... They said we were making noise, but we weren't even making any noise."
"If an officer tells me to leave, I'm gone! I'm gone like the roadrunner!" he said.
The man already has a court summons and must appear on Oct. 3. He said he isn't too worried about the situation just yet, but he is trying to figure out what to do about legal representation.
MELDON MOFFITT, 42, ARRESTED AUG. 19, AUG. 24 AND SEPT. 7
Moffitt, a local resident who has been protesting with the group Lost Voices, has been arrested three times in connection with the demonstrations. The third arrest took place on the evening of Sept. 7, as he and other protesters marched along West Florissant Avenue. He was arrested on a "manner of walking" charge -- essentially Missouri's version of jaywalking.
"They arrested me for a walking charge, which is the same [reason they said they stopped] Michael Brown, the same thing," Moffitt said. "They all of a sudden grabbed me and another one of our organization members, and they locked us up. They made us pay, both of our bonds were $300, altogether we had to pay $600 to get out of city jail."
Moffitt received a court summons for Oct. 9.
One of eight children, he says he was in foster care from the time he was two years old until he was 18. He was locked up on traffic charges a few months before Brown's death, and he is currently on probation for a robbery that took place in 1993, when he was in his early 20s.
"Since this has been going on I’ve been getting locked up," Moffitt said of the protests. "They always find a reason to get me. I guess they do it because I’m on parole."
Moffitt said that after he was arrested, a Ferguson police officer asked him to explain why he was protesting. Moffitt told him he wanted to support Brown's family because "your colleague officer killed him in cold blood."
"Well the officer said, 'What would you do if someone that size turned toward you?' And I said, 'That is no excuse for what Darren Wilson did to that 18-year-old child.'"
Moffitt said he felt like he was stripped of his rights, dignity and pride in prison. Now that he's out, he's trying to make a difference, and he said he feels like he's doing that in Ferguson.
"A lot of people don't have to recognize it, they don't have to see it, they don't have to congratulate me, because I know my heavenly father sees it," he said. "There's nowhere in this world I'd rather be than with the Lost Voices fighting for justice for all walks of life."
JANISHIA GRINSTON, 23, ARRESTED AUG. 18
Grinston, a film student at Tennessee State University, was locked up after she filmed officers standing guard outside the QuickTrip convenience store, according to a Tennessee news station. She captured much of the exchange on video.
“You’ve got to keep moving,” one officer told her.
“I’m moving, I stopped for two seconds,” she said.
Another officer told Grinston she had been warned before, and she was soon taken into custody.
“The next thing I know, they looked at each other, and about six of them came and cuffed me,” Grinston told the station.
UMAR LEE AND LIZ PEINADO, ARRESTED AUG. 13
Lee and Peinado were among a group of people who were peacefully sitting outside the Ferguson Police Department the night of Aug. 13 when police told the crowd to disperse.
As on other nights, a few dozen people were outside the police department protesting. Shortly after midnight, a heavily armored Humvee and dozens of officers in full gear showed up and told everyone to leave or be arrested. While most of the crowd left, Peinado and Flannery decided to stay, sitting on the sidewalk and tweeting about what was happening.
"I sat down, legs crossed, one hand in the air holding a peace sign, one hand holding my phone on Twitter," Peinado said.
They decided to leave when the police said it was their "final warning." Peinado said she was already in their car and Flannery was about to get in when "at least seven armed" police officers surrounded them and told them they were under arrest.
Lee, a columnist for the St. Louis Evening Whirl, was arrested outside the police department that night as well.
"It was kind of traumatic, in a sense," said Lee. "We weren't doing anything wrong. We weren't even part of the protest. We were just taking pictures, filming. The protest was over, and we were walking toward our guys. You have guys pointing automatic weapons at us, tactical teams surrounding us and putting the cuffs on us. It's a really scary experience."
Both Lee and Peinado were locked up and released on $300 bail, with an Oct. 9 court date.
Ryan Frank, a filmmaker who was also arrested that night, posted video of some of the chaos. Peinado is the woman in denim shirt who can be seen getting out of the car, and Lee is shown being handcuffed at the end:
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