At Least 18 Still in Jail with Serious Charges
St. Louis, MO – As the year draws to a close, those providing legal support to people arrested in Ferguson and St. Louis City and County have taken toll of the official reaction to protests which have continued on an almost daily basis since the August 9th killing of Mike Brown. Over 600 people have been arrested, mostly on municipal charges, but 70 people are facing felony charges. St. Louis Artist and Activist Damon Davis said, “Protest and dissent are the most natural and necessary part of democracy. When people expressing their disdain with a power structure can be easily silenced by imprisonment, true democracy can be snuffed out in an instant. The jail support system gave people confidence in their ability to express contempt for the system without fear of being silenced in jail cells permanently. That confidence spread throughout the world and is a pivotal part of our protest infrastructure.”
Over the course of the last few months, the jail support team working under the umbrella of Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE), has received calls from 634 arrestees. It’s estimated that this number is potentially far less than the total number of people arrested. The majority of arrestees were released without charges or bond. St. Louis University Law Professor and National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer Justin Hansford said, “The targeted arrests of peaceful activists and Legal Observers, including myself, is a black eye on this nation. It proves that this has not been about upholding the law but about silencing protest. Anyone who claims to favor freedom but at the same time uses their power to discourage dissent is abusing our democracy.”
The number of people charged with felonies and the severity of those charges far exceeds anything that has occurred at protests in the United States in the last decade. Law enforcement officers put two people’s eyes out with ‘less lethal’ weapons, one of whom is an expectant mother who was a passenger in a car leaving a gas station; one person was shot three times with live ammunition but survived; numerous arrestees were taken to the hospital while in police custody due to the brutality of their arrests. On December 11, 2014 a federal judge granted protesters a temporary restraining order against the police, due to substantial evidence that police had violated protesters’ constitutional rights with their use of chemical weapons and excessive force.
There are currently 18 activists who remain in jail stemming from the months-long civil unrest. The protesters have been in jail for a month or longer due to their inability to pay cash-only bonds ranging from $20,000 to $200,000. The majority of activists still in custody were arrested during protests following theNovember 24th grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. “Keeping a presumptively innocent human being in a cage solely because she cannot afford to make a monetary payment is both unconstitutional and morally shocking,” said Alec Karakatsanis from the Washington, D.C. based civil rights organization Equal Justice Under Law. “Sadly, it is standard practice in the courts of St. Louis.”
The MORE jail support team has crowd-sourced tens of thousands of dollars and bailed well over 100 people out of jail in addition to paying for municipal bench warrants that would have prevented them from being released. The total spent from the jail support fund at https://secure.piryx.com/donate/mS25KFCe/MORE/mikebrown on bail and municipal bench warrants to date is $152,000. In the last week before Christmas, working with Arch City Defenders and No Holds Bail Bonds the MORE legal support team successfully secured the release of 18 more activists, the majority of which had been in jail for over a month. Community organizations and coalitions such as the Don’t Shoot Coalition and Organization for Black Struggle are calling for amnesty for those arrested during protests and activists have declared their intentions to demand jury trials and fight their charges.
Working with other community-based organizations and political activists, the MORE legal support team will continue to support community activists throughout their trials.“The rampant civil and human rights abuses, brutality, and indignities against demonstrators and bystanders we have seen are a magnifying glass on the treatment that communities of color face at the hands of law enforcement across the United States," said Purvi Shah from theFerguson Legal Defense Committee. “As lawyers, we must stand behind this movement and the people of St. Louis if we want to see real change in our lifetimes.”