Update from Ferguson – 11 September 2014
Written by Nick Kasoff
I was arrested yesterday, for the first time in my life. Not a pleasant experience, but perhaps an important one. And it’s hard to know where to start. As you already know, about 200 people gathered at the intersection of I-70 and Hanley Road, with the intention of causing a brief shutdown of the highway. They were met by about 50 police in riot gear, taking an aggressive posture.
At 3:40, I approached the north side of the Hanley Road bridge over I-70 on my bicycle, intending to take some photographs of the protesting. I have been at a good many of these events, always staying entirely within the boundaries of the law. While I don’t know the details of the Michael Brown shooting, and therefore can take no principled position on that, there is plenty of other injustice about which we should protest.
At the core, there is a strong armed and corrupt government in Ferguson and many other municipalities in this county, subsidizing their budgets by taking millions of dollars from poor people at gunpoint. This is unequivocally immoral, and represents one of the core issues of our day. The poor population of this county has struggled under this burden for years, losing jobs and homes, being hauled from one municipal jail to another, and whatever the outcome of the Michael Brown situation, it has brought these issues forward.
Because the bridge was closed, I returned to Florissant Road, and came across to Hanley on University Place Drive, arriving at 3:57. After taking a few photos in the area, I saw others standing on a concrete wall which runs between the sidewalk and the Metrolink property, so I leaned my bicycle against the back of the wall, stood up there, and started taking photos. At 4:04, police suddenly began moving south on Hanley Road. The road was closed just north of University Place Drive, and with a few exceptions, people were not in the street. But they just started arresting people.
A woman from Ferguson was next to me taking photographs with a nice SLR. They pushed her backwards off the wall, then grabbed her shirt as she fell, tearing the bottom of her shirt. She fell down the hill, and two cops grabbed her and put her in cuffs. After getting a photo of that, at 4:05, I stepped off the back of the wall, with the intention of getting my bicycle and leaving, which is what they had asked people to do. A cop jumped the wall, knocked me to the ground, put his knee in my back, and cuffed me. Total time there: 7 minutes. I was never in the street, never approached the highway, and was never in the way of anybody. I was taking photos, that’s all.
I was put into a van, and seeing an older white man sitting in a seat by himself, proceeded to sit next to him. After we talked for a few minutes, I asked him his name. He was Reverend Larry Rice, of whom I’ve never exactly been a fan. Across the aisle from us was Mike McMillan, president of the Urban League of St. Louis. It was McMillan’s first arrest. I shared the first holding cell with Rick, McMillan, and several other gentlemen.
The processing we went through upon arriving in Clayton was bewilderingly stupid. First, people were in zip tie cuffs, some cuffed so loosely that they could remove their hands from the cuffs, while others cuffed painfully tight. Larry Rice and I were cuffed so tightly that our hands started to swell, but it took hours to get somebody to fix that. And the worst thing to me? No phone call. I was arrested shortly after 4:00. I knew my wife would be worried, especially since my bicycle accident earlier this year. Yet despite asking several times, I was not able to call and let her know where I was. When I was released at 11:00, they were just getting around to letting people make calls – and that, from a system where you had to call collect, which doesn’t work with prepaid cell phones or VOIP, which these days is just about everyone.
And the ultimate irony? A good number of those arrested were not able to be released, because they owed money for traffic tickets. One of the jail workers actually said, “If you have warrants, start calling friends and family to raise bond money, because you can’t get out until you pay it.”
Finally, an amusing technology rant. Instead of the old fashion ink pads, they now have fancy new electronic fingerprinting machines. At one point, somebody asked why it was taking so long to process us. Of course, they have to run every arrested person through a state database to make sure they aren’t wanted for other crimes. With digital fingerprinting, this should be quick and easy. But not in St. Louis county. After taking your fingerprints, they print them out on a piece of paper, and put that paper into a pneumatic tube which goes to an office elsewhere in the building. Somebody there scans the piece of paper into another computer, where they check it against the state database. And, there’s only one person doing that, so the process took hours.
The discussion I had with the many people I met last night leaves me even less optimistic than I was about the resolution of the many problems our community faces. With each protest, and each new wave of arrests, there are more angry people. And the protests now include not only professional protesters like Zaki Baruti and Eric Vickers, but more mainstream leaders like Mike McMillan and Larry Rice. Those with whom I spoke all agreed that the protests will continue until there is substantive change. I can hardly see how that will happen any time soon.
This article was published with Nick’s permission from his Facebook post.