Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Guilty of public assembly, by Eric E. Vickers, courtesy of St. Louis American

Eric E. Vickers
On Wednesday, September 10, between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., a legion of St. Louis County police officers – almost exclusively white – dressed in riot gear, lined the intersection of Interstate 70 and Hanley Road with their uniformed bodies and an array of vehicles, including an armored military transport. This massive display of taxpayer resources was deployed for the purpose of preventing the planned shutdown of Interstate 70, with hundreds of protesters, mostly black adults, gathered at the location, chanting and poised to peaceably march. 

The police blocked off Hanley Road completely, and then cordoned off the entrances to the interstate, thus physically blocking protesters from entering and accessing the public areas and public right-of-way along the interstate. 
Being caged in this manner, protesters began spontaneous acts of civil disobedience, lying out on Hanley Road, as officers quickly bound them in wristband handcuffs and loaded them into the police buses they had standing by on the scene. The intensity of the crowd turned from being pumped up to participate in a demonstration to outright anger at the police for denying them what they felt and knew was their constitutional right to assemble and walk on public areas. 
They were prepared to be arrested for physically going onto the highway; they were not prepared to be arrested for simply assembling to protest. 
Declaring over their bullhorn that the crowd constituted "an unlawful assembly," the police moved to disperse the protest completely, moving forward in a line with their shields and nightsticks. 
It did not matter to the police that the protesters were lawfully congregating on the private parking lot of the BP gas station on the corner, or on the sidewalks, or on the spacious lawn entrance of a nearby apartment complex, or even on the grassy area that is part of the Metro station at the corner. They were all criminals in the eyes of the police, as they moved with a cold-blooded swiftness to remove every black person from the area. 
As the protesters were forced to disperse, their anger with the police reached a seething level. Two young black men drove their car on the Metro parking lot, turned up the volume in their car stereo to a rap song whose main words are "f--- the police," and the adults joined in.  
The protesters did not succeed in shutting down Interstate 70. They did succeed in achieving the purpose in shutting down the highway: "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”  Courtesy of St. Louis American.