Former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson, whose shooting of Michael Brown sparked national protests, seems to have escaped criminal charges, but the same can’t be said for St. Louis protesters. According to The Huffington Post, St. Louis County prosecutors are getting ready to hit protesters with a barrage of charges.
“A year later, St. Louis County authorities have decided they’re not done with protesters quite yet,” said an article by Huffington Post justice reporter Ryan J. Reilly and HuffPost Ferguson fellow Mariah Stewart. “Lawyers representing the interests of those arrested in Ferguson last August say St. Louis County authorities have sent out ‘hundreds’ of summonses to individuals swept up by police a year ago. Because the state prosecuting attorney refused to take many of the cases and the city of Ferguson has not pursued charges in others, the ordinance violation charges have come from the St. Louis County Counselor — the very same entity that defends the St. Louis County Police Department’s actions in civil rights lawsuits.”
Civil liberties organizations are being flooded with complaints from St. Louis protesters.
“A joint statement issued Tuesday by over a dozen organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Advancement Project and Arch City Defenders, condemned the action as ‘a blatant violation of constitutional rights and an appalling misuse of our already overburdened court system.’ The statement asked the St. Louis County Counselor’s office to ‘do the right thing and help heal the region’ by dismissing the cases,” said HuffPost. “The organization also set up an intake form to help arrange for legal representation for those who have been charged.”
According to The Huffington Post, protesters, who were exercising their civil rights, were met with police dogs, tear gas and military-grade equipment such as armored vehicles and snipers. And it’s not just protesters who are facing charges. Journalists, who were trying to report on the protests, have also been charged. Reilly and Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery were both charged with trespassing and interfering with police officers after they didn’t exit a McDonald’s fast enough. Canadian TV’s Tom Walters was also charged with interfering with a police officer.
Even though the St. Louis County Counselor’s office is charging hundreds of protesters, reports from federal officials claim the protesters were in their rights to be demonstrating on the streets.
“The decision to pursue charges comes despite the fact that a forthcoming report commissioned by the Justice Department finds that the tactics used against demonstrators last August were deeply flawed and suppressed constitutional rights,” said HuffPost. “The decision to pursue charges was also made even though a federal judge ruled months ago that some of the strategies used by police were unconstitutional, and that authorities were ordered to give demonstrators warning before using less-lethal weapons on them.”
The latest round of charges makes people question the intention of the St. Louis County district attorney’s office, which has been quick to charge protesters, but seemed to bend over backwards to avoid prosecuting Wilson.
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank lambasted St. Louis County District Attorney Bob McCulloch’s handling of the Wilson case.
“In September, I wrote that it appeared he (McCulloch) wasn’t even trying to get an indictment; he had a long record of protecting police in such cases, and his decision not to recommend a specific charge to the grand jury essentially guaranteed there would be no indictment,” said Milbank. “McCulloch essentially acknowledged that his team was serving as Wilson’s defense lawyers, noting that prosecutors ‘challenged’ and ‘confronted’ witnesses by pointing out previous statements and evidence that discredited their accounts.”
Milbank also pointed out McCulloch, whose police officer father was killed by a black criminal, has never prosecuted a police officer shooting in 23 years on the job.
Anthony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU-MO, thinks the St. Louis County Counselor’s office filed the charges to deter protesters from pursuing civil rights violation charges. But it might have the opposite effect.
“It could also make people who are ready to move on and have just forgotten about their constitutional rights being violated much more angry and eager to pursue a lawsuit against the county once the criminal charges are resolved,” Rothert said. “It’s almost like it started to scab over for a lot of people, and now filing these charges is like picking the scab off and re-victimizing people whose constitutional rights were violated in the first place.”