Scores of protesters at the helm of the ongoing nationwide movement against police violence stormed the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Wednesday, aiming to “evict” officers they accused of “perpetrating police brutality on our citizenry.”
Five of the roughly 25 demonstrators who linked arms in the lobby of the police department were arrested in the headquarters, the St. Louis Police Department told Al Jazeera. Police pepper-sprayed and forced other protesters off the premises.
The detainees — four women and one man — were charged with “trespassing and peace disturbance,” said Leah K. Freeman, the department's spokeswoman. The man was charged with “assault 3rd [degree] for assaulting a City Marshall inside the lobby of police headquarters.”
Among the protesters was a white couple that pretended to open an account at the St. Louis Police Credit Union, located inside the building, before joining demonstrators who charged the premises. The arrested included a white college student, a young Mexican-American man, one black woman and a Palestinian-American mother in her 50s. Organizers said the detained activists — like the rest of the demonstrators who stormed police headquarters — were peaceful and did not conduct themselves differently from their fellow activists.
“We got a lot of people in there because we didn’t look like what they think protesters look like,” said Elizabeth Vega, 48, one of the organizers, explaining that the police were likely expecting more black demonstrators. Originally from Mexico, Vega has lived in the St. Louis area for 14 years.
Protesters who were driven outside erected a makeshift “barricade” at the headquarters’ main entrance, organizers said. By mid-afternoon local time, that barrier separated a small line of police from the demonstrators, whose ranks swelled to 75 from the original 25. Another 18, including 12 females and 6 males, "were arrested for impeding the flow of traffic" outside the station, Freeman said. One was charged with "interfering with an officer" after allegedly hurling a projectile at the police.
“We specifically chose this date, because we knew it would be a skeleton crew,” said one of the protesters, Jessie Sandoval, 41, of the police being short-staffed on New Years eve. Sandoval travelled to Ferguson, Missouri in August to protest police brutality after a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, on Aug. 9, sparking an outcry against the policing of communities of color across the country.
Protests have spread from the St. Louis area across the nation since Brown’s killing, one of several police killings of black men this year that focused international scrutiny on the use of lethal force as a law enforcement tactic.
Among a list of demands the protesters delivered Wednesday to police before officers arrested and pepper sprayed protesters was a meeting with police officials and the immediate dismissal of white officers they identify as having unjustly killed young black men. VonDerrit D. Myers Jr., 18, was reportedly brandishing a jammed gun in a standoff with white police officer Jason H. Flanery when Flanery shot and killed him in St. Louis. People at Wednesday’s protest cite Flanery’s online diatribes against gays and Muslims as a sign of his discriminatory policing.
Kajieme Powell, 25, was killed by St. Louis police on Aug. 19. The police officer told the media at the time that the officer had followed protocol and killed him in self-defense, but they have yet to reveal the name of the officer involved in the incident.
“There are too many young people getting shot by police. We’re just taking back” the police department, Vega said.
“We’ve not been listened to. So we’re just taking it up a notch and doing traditional acts of disobedience.”