This report just in from Kris Hermes, the Legal Worker Vice President of the National Lawyers Guild:
October 15, 2014 Here is a legal update for the events that happened over this past weekend for the FergusonOctober mobilization and an accumulative assessment since Mike Brown was murdered on August 9th. There is now an incredible, burgeoning legal collective in St. Louis that is working with Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) and the National Lawyers Guild, as well as other groups like the ArchCity Defenders. The legal collective showed grace under pressure this past weekend and will continue to support the pending criminal cases, help to monitor police presence/misconduct at ongoing demonstrations, track arrestees through the system, and play other support roles. FergusonOctober: This past weekend was especially active with numerous protests in Ferguson and across St. Louis County. You can see more about the weekend here, but this is some legal info: More than 80 NLG Legal Observers (LOs) were trained in the days leading up to the weekend, establishing a new robust group of LOs for future protests. The NLG worked with the local ACLU chapter to dispatch LOs such that every action over the weekend had ample green hats in the crowd. [editor’s note: NLG legal observers wear florescent green hats to identify themselves, they are present at protests to monitor police conduct, not to participate in the protests.] There were nearly 100 arrests during the weekend of resistance, all of which were municipal offenses. Friday included a march on the prosecuting attorney Bob McCullough’s office in downtown Clayton. The main march of several thousand was on Saturday through downtown St. Louis, and included a breakaway march to Police Headquarters. None of these actions resulted in arrests. Saturday night, 20 people were arrested at a sit-in at the Quick Trip gas station in the Shaw area of St. Louis, near where VonDerrit Myers was killed by an off-duty police officer last Wednesday. In fact, since then, near-daily protests have occurred in the Shaw neighborhood. The night of the murder, protesters successfully ran police out of the neighborhood, but since then the police have been fairly aggressive, using riot gear, forming police lines and pepper spraying crowds indiscriminately. Five Shaw protesters were arrested last Thursday, three of whom were charged with felonies (destruction of property), including one protester who was assaulted by police during his arrest (additional resisting arrest charge). More than an hour after the arrests at the QT on Saturday night, an NLG Legal Observer, Steven Hoffmann, was arrested on site and charged with unlawful assembly.Sunday night, two large marches in the Shaw area joined to form a bloc of more than 1,000 protesters, which converged at St. Louis University for a sit-in at the clock tower, which is still going on right now. There have been no arrests at SLU, and the University has indicated that it would not make arrests as long as protesters remain peaceful.
On Monday, there were several decentralized direct actions across St. Louis, including: – a clergy civil disobedience action at the Ferguson Police Department (37 arrests) – “Show Me $15” actions at 3 different Walmarts (27 arrests) – a civil disobedient action at a fundraiser for St. Louis County Executive candidate Steve Stenger (9 arrests), and – a banner drop at the Monday Night Football St. Louis Rams game (no arrests). SLU Law School professor and LO Justin Hansford was also arrested on Monday, bringing the total of LO arrests to 6. Just to give him a shout out, Justin has been instrumental in building collaboration within the legal community and with local organizers here in St. Louis. Everyone who was arrested during the weekend of resistance is now out of jail. However, two people arrested last Thursday in Shaw and charged with felonies are still in jail. The legal collective and MORE, with the help of the Guild, are working to get them out. Total Arrests: There have been a total of approximately 350 political arrests since Mike Brown’s murder. The vast majority of protesters were arrested on municipal charges, but 40 people have been charged with felonies (mainly burglary, destruction of property, assault on a police officer, use of a deadly or dangerous weapon, and resisting arrest). Most of those charged with felony burglary were also charged with misdemeanor theft. The NLG has worked to find attorneys for all of the felony arrestees who contacted the legal hotline, which is approximately half of those charged. Other felony defendants currently have public defenders. As I mentioned in a previous update, MORE is sponsoring ArchCity Defenders, a local legal aid organization, to defend all of the municipal cases, but so far prosecutors have filed formal charges against less than 30 protesters. The protests and the energy generated by them have helped to establish a new, vibrant, more collaborative legal community in St. Louis, drawing from SLU Law School, Washington University Law School, Mound City Bar Association, ArchCity Defenders, ACLU, and NLG. But, the legal collective in particular, deserves tremendous credit for its amazing work under pressure and its ability to react gracefully and with cooperation despite often chaotic, difficult, and tense circumstances. Local legal workers have sharpened their teeth on these latest actions, and will hopefully continue their awesome work as long as protests are occurring. It has been an honor to support both spontaneous and planned protests by mainly youth of color and to have the back of an unrelenting revolutionary movement. In solidarity, Kris Hermes NLG Legal Worker VP P.S. People are now preparing for the possibility that the grand jury won’t indict Darren Wilson.