Citing numerous instances of police abuse and overreach against demonstrators who took to public streets and sidewalks to demand justice in the police shooting death of unarmed African American teen Michael Brown and an end to racialized policing, civil rights lawyers filed suit in federal court asking a judge to order police to halt the most egregious tactics.
U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson heard testimony from three people who complained of excessive police tactics. For instance, a failure to distinguish among targets of enforcement action. “There was no distinction drawn in the way peaceful protesters were treated and the way criminals were treated, even though the police do make those distinctions in other situations,” she said.
She also said, “People involved in peaceful, non-violent political speech can do that without being lumped in as criminals.”
In Judge Jackson’s ruling she stipulated the following.
Judge Jackson expressed some concern about police consistency. She noted that protesters who blocked South Grand Boulevard were met with tear gas while others the same night who blocked Interstate 44, not far away, were not.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers complained before the hearing that police intimidated demonstrators, assaulted them with tear gas and pepper spray, arbitrarily labeled gatherings as unlawful assemblies and refused to wear name tags that might have provided accountability.
“What they’re doing is punishing people for being out protesting,” said lawyer Thomas B. Harvey. “It’s having a chilling effect on their First and Fourth Amendment rights.”
Judge Jackson in her ruling also stated: “The evidence also establishes that the law enforcement officials failed to give the plaintiffs and other protesters any warning that chemical agents would be deployed and, hence, no opportunity to avoid injury. As a result, the plaintiffs’ ability to engage in lawful speech and assembly is encumbered by a law enforcement response that would be used if a crime were being committed.”
The case was filed Monday against St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar and Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson. Judge Jackson’s ruling was made on Thursday the 11th.
This is a major victory that we can only wish may help to set a precedent for law enforcement tactics used on citizens who take to the streets to protest. Time and again we witness the use of chemical agents on people who have no idea whats about to happen to them. Recently in Portland Oregon as seen in the video below, police drop concussion grenades at peoples feet without warning, injuring the foot and leg of a citizen who was present.
This type of disregard for safety and instant criminalization of citizens who protest is the standard procedure of police departments from coast to coast in America and worldwide. The only true victory will come when Police Departments the world over are banned from using weaponry and chemical agents on those they are sworn to protect and serve.