Dear Mayor Krewson, Lt. Col. O'Toole, and Sheriff Betts:
On Friday, the ACLU of Missouri sent each of your offices a letter. We implored you to remind law enforcement to allow the community to continue to express its outrage, pain and grief by protecting their First Amendment right to protest.
We know there were sporadic moments of violence and vandalism – these are not covered by the Constitutional right to protest. However, outside of these moments, officers broke their vow to protect the public by engaging in illegal activities and actions that violated policies of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and agreed-upon rules of engagement made during 2014 protests.
The ACLU of Missouri works closely with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) of St. Louis. Together, we train legal observers to monitor demonstrations for violations of civil liberties and Constitutional rights.
On Friday, legal observers saw officers:
- Attacking people indiscriminately with gratuitous use of pepper spray, pepper balls, rubber bullets, and tear gas when no apparent illegal activity has occurred
- Excessively using of force, including violent arrests that caused injuries
- Deploying chemicals, such as tear gas and pepper spray, without warning
- Deploying tear gas on routes where people were leaving
- Arresting people with questionable probable cause
- Illegally searching bags and other possessions
- Not wearing name tags and not identifying themselves
- Blocking access to public spaces without apparent cause of officer safety, ongoing investigation, or public safety hazard
- Forcefully blocking recordings of police conduct in public spaces at safe and reasonable distances
- Selectively enforcing access to public spaces
- Entering safe spaces against policy and with questionable probable cause
- Using intimidating displays of force, explicitly contrary to agreement prior to release of verdict
This is unacceptable.
We know the nation is watching St. Louis as our community grapples with the verdict in the Jason Stockley case. We must learn from the lessons of our past – from the lessons of Friday evening to the lessons of 2014.
It is imperative you remind law enforcement:
- To not use chemical weapons, such as pepper spray and tear gas, without following the proper protocols to ensure the protection of constitutional rights.
- To only wear riot gear when absolutely necessary. Officers’ nametags are not visible when wearing riot gear – this anonymity is intimidating and doesn’t allow for police accountability.
- To wear their body cameras and have them turned on at all times.
- Not use force against protesters absent a real and immediate threat of physical harm to others.
We hope that you will take responsibility to guarantee the rights of all citizens. If you fail to do so, we will explore all legal options to make sure the Constitutional rights of the people are protected and respected.
ACLU of Missouri