Police in St. Louis swept up 120 people who were supposedly part of the protest that the police were trying to rein in — a protest against police brutality itself after yet another officer who killed a black man was let off without consequences.
Two hours before the arrests, vandals had broken a window and a few flowerpots in the vicinity. The applause for their work was thunderous; the acting police chief said the cops had “owned tonight” and Gov. Eric Grietens was all praise for their tactics.
However, as details regarding the arrests began to pour in, doubts were cast on the police force’s performance. Out of the 120 people arrested that night, many were not even out on the streets to challenge the police, and at least one of them was also a police officer.
The undercover police officer was mistaken for a protester carrying chemicals that could be sprayed on the police. He was confronted by two uniformed officers and ordered to show his hands. Upon his refusal, he was knocked down, hit three times and had his hands zip-tied behind his back. The encounter left him bloodied.
Air Force Lt. Alex Nelson was milling around the area with his wife to gauge the scale of the protest. The police closed in and, according to Nelson, he was kicked in the face, pepper sprayed and dragged away. Nelson was disappointed by the attitude of the police, who reprimanded him for being on their street. Nelson lives on that street.
“I’m very sad how they treated me and my wife through the escalation of violence they used on me,” Nelson recounted. “It was incredibly unnecessary. I’ve had training on how to arrest and be arrested, and I capitulated to every demand that was made of me, even before I was on the ground. We were told to move back, and we moved back. We were told to move this way, we moved this way. We obeyed every command that we heard. We were never given an order to disperse. Not once.”
As he was loaded into the police mobile, he informed the police that he worked for the Air Force. He was told to “shut up.”
Another person arrested in the force’s onslaught was a member of the press. Scott Olson, 57, is a journalist working for Getty Images and was covering the protest Sunday night. Upon receiving information that the police planned to close in, he decided to stay and take some shots.
The police caught up with him and asked him to drop his equipment. He knelt and “gently placed” his $15,000 camera on the ground. As he was being led away, he enquired about his camera. “(Expletive) your camera”, was the response he received. Olson saw another police officer putting the camera around his neck.
It is obvious that many of the “vandals” arrested by the police on Sunday night were caught in the sweep, and were not given proper orders to disperse. William Waldron, 38, was leaving a bar when he was thrown to the ground and arrested. He recalls that no order to disperse was given. He had tried to go back into the car but was shoved down by a police shield.
Other people who were caught in the fray included a documentary filmmaker from Kansas who was with his wife.
The police were understandably under immense pressure to rein in vandals and de-escalate the situation. However, its reckless, unwarranted use of force only confirms suspicions that, as an institution, the St. Louis police are unwilling to listen to or consider any allegations of systematic racism.