Activists from Ferguson and other parts of St. Louis say they were targeted for arrest at a protest last week. Nine people were taken into custody last Monday after roughly 40 people protested the police shooting of 16-year-old Brandon Claxton, who is now paralyzed from the waist down. St. Louis Police shot Claxton on Saturday, July 11 claiming that he had a gun. They then detained his 14-year-old brother for 48 hours without alerting the child’s mother or giving him access to a lawyer. Monday’s arrests came one day after police violently arrested an initial set of protesters from the youth group Lost Voices, breaking one young woman’s arm and spraying a young man in the face with mace.
St. Louis-based rapper and activist Tef Poe said the shooting and subsequent arrests were unjustifiable.
“There's no emotional empathy for us whatsoever,” he said. “And that's why they can lock us up so heartlessly while we were protesting and asking questions. We're not fighting anybody, we're not throwing stones, we don't have guns–all we're doing is asking questions about the actual incident: why somebody was shot multiple times and a mother can't see her children.”
Poe, his fellow Hands Up United organizer Tara Thompson, and Reverend Osagyefo Sekou were among the nine arrested on Monday. According to Thompson and Poe, police arrested the protesters after they complied with a final order to cease blocking the street and disperse. All three organizers said that police specifically targeted 10 people out of the larger group of 40 because of their prior political activity.
“The police came out and we watched them point ‘Arrest him, arrest her, arrest him,’” said Sekou. “Tef Poe was pulled out of his car. I was pulled off the sidewalk by what appeared to be 5 or 6 officers.”
"They ran up the block to get a 15 year old girl, who was literally on the sidewalk and up the street at this point,” Thompson said, commenting that police have no concerns about arresting youth.
She noted that people came up to protesters during the demonstration to say they overheard police calling out the names of specific people they wanted to arrest.
According to Sekou, police targeted the 15-year-old “Because she had led an action disrupting the Pride Parade, calling on Pride to acknowledge the humanity of Black folks and trans folks.”
Poe said that the word “arrest” was inadequate for describing the situation.
“We weren't arrested–we were kidnapped,” he said. “They were pulling people off the sidewalk in an organized fashion. Deliberately going to specific people. If it's about arresting people who were impeding traffic, we weren't the only ones impeding traffic.”
Police could not immediately say what the protesters were being charged for, Thompson said.
“The unfortunate truth is that you have a rogue force of what is supposed to be public servants, that literally you can't believe anything that they say or publish,” she said, commenting on the overall experience. “So they get to put these stories, rework the story, edit it, come back, vilify the person and then somehow justify them taking or altering someone's life tremendously. And then the next day nothing happens.”
For Tef Poe, the excessive use of force was indicative of the devaluation of Black people.
“You can Google hundreds of YouTube videos where white people have guns. They're tased, they have three hour standoffs, they call in the bomb squad and Superman and Captain America to negotiate. Death isn't always the first option,” he said. “We're dealing with a child here.”
“It just shows you,” he continued, “that no matter what, Black youth and specifically young Black men are viewed as these aggressive gorillas that just have to be tranquilized. And more times than not, the tranquilizer is a bullet from a police officer's gun.”
Says Thompson, "They're perpetuating these stereotypes inside of law enforcement [agencies], which are the same stereotypes that society is perpetuating. But the difference is they are given a badge and gun and impunity."
The violence against protesters on Sunday and singling out of protesters Monday is an attempt to intimidate the resistance movement as the one year anniversary of Mike Brown’s murder and the Ferguson uprising approach, Reverend Sekou said.
In addition to Brandon Claxton’s shooting, people have recently protested a prosecutor’s decision against charging the cop who killed Vonderrit Myers, Jr. in October and participated in the Copwatch police documentation actions.
“I think the level of repression we’re experiencing is in reference to sending a message for the weekend of resistance that’s coming up August 7-10, that there’s a no tolerance policy,” Sekou said. “But to be sure, we will not bow down.”
The endurance of the movement is historic to Sekou.
“Ferguson is the longest resistance against police brutality in the history of the US, second only to the Montgomery Bus Boycott in time, and nine months longer than Selma,” he said. “And it’s the first time since the slave insurrections and the civil war that the conditions of the Black lumpen-proletariat set the terms of the national debate.”
Put in other words, Poe said that what separates Ferguson from other cities is “ the fact that [the uprising] was authentically led by poor women and men. It's not the academics who have the privilege to sit up in one of the universities and sort of philosophize what racism means. It's the teenage mother that works at McDonald's and she was trying to get home after work, but she couldn't because there was an MRAP blocking her street.”
Thompson said that police have been caught off guard that the movement has continued for so long.
“They're tired, “Thompson said. “I'm certain they didn't think this was gonna continue to go on for this long. So the arrests are getting more and more aggressive. I have no idea what next month is going to bring. So we do need to think about long-term strategies on how to handle them.”
In the trajectory of the year since Mike Brown’s killing, Sekou said that the movement has gotten some smaller victories, including resources that the Occupy SLU (Saint Louis University) action secured for the local Black community, the implementation of a civilian oversight board for the police after decades of organizing, and the US Department of Justice’s scathing report on the Ferguson law enforcement system.
Looking forward to the weekend of resistance in August, Sekou had a message for everyone: “If people can’t come to Ferguson for the anniversary, we ask that they turn up in their homes–because Ferguson is everywhere.”