Legal coalition condemns recent move after multiple jurisdictions chose not to charge activists
FERGUSON, MO.—In a surprise move, just before the statute of limitations was about to expire, St. Louis County Counselor Peter Krane filed charges last week against at least 100 people who were arrested a year ago while peacefully protesting the murder of Michael Brown outside of the Ferguson Police Department.
After the City of Ferguson and the State Prosecuting Attorney refused to file charges against activists arrested last year, County Counselor Krane reconstructed police reports in order to pursue protesters accused of Interfering with a Police Officer. Since the statute of limitations has not expired for everyone, additional protesters could still be charged.
In response to this last-minute filing, a coalition of legal groups issued a statement opposing the excessive and unnecessary prosecutions. The coalition includes: National Lawyers Guild, its St. Louis chapter and National Police Accountability Project, Advancement Project, American Civil Liberties Union and its Missouri chapter, ArchCity Defenders, Black Movement Law Project, Center for Constitutional Rights, Mound City Bar Association, Legal Defense and Education Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and its Missouri chapter, National Association for Public Defense, National Press Photographers Association, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and St. Louis University Civil Litigation Clinic.
The charges filed against scores of Ferguson protesters from 2014 came as people took to the streets last week to commemorate the life of Michael Brown and his murder by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. More than 150 arrests were made at recent protests as the Black Lives Matter movement continued to call attention to the injustices of the legal system. Police also used chemical weapons and excessive force against peaceful protesters, indicating no change in law enforcement’s brutal crowd control tactics.
“The County of St. Louis is grasping at straws to find ways to stifle ongoing protests in Ferguson,” said National Lawyers Guild Executive Director Pooja Gehi, who was arrested while documenting police misconduct on August 10. “Despite these forms of intimidation, the people of Ferguson will continue to seek accountability by police and the National Lawyers Guild will continue to have their backs.”
Just this last Wednesday, on the one-year anniversary of the police killing of Kajieme Powell, more protests erupted in St. Louis after police fatally shot 18-year old Mansur Ball-Bey. As people took to the streets, police deployed tear gas and arrested nine people. It is clear that there is much work left to do in St. Louis—and nationwide—in the movement for Black lives and First Amendment rights.
The National Lawyers Guild was formed in 1937 as the nation’s first racially integrated bar association to advocate for the protection of constitutional, human and civil rights.
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Photo: Police deploy teargas to break up protests on August 19. (Kenny Bahr/Reuters)