I Was an ACLU Legal Observer During the St. Louis Protests. Here’s What I Saw.

Maleeha Ahmad, a plaintiff in the ACLU of Missouri’s suit against city of St. Louis, was pepper sprayed by police without warning.

ST. LOUIS — Over the last week, I have been on the streets of St. Louis monitoring the police crackdown on protests sparked by the acquittal of Officer Jason Stockley on charges he murdered Anthony Lamar Smith. And though there have been real moments of darkness, I also have seen things that give me hope.

Last weekend, I witnessed St. Louis police department endanger people by using pepper spray and releasing smoke bombs. It was legal observers like me who documented incidents, gathering smoke bomb canisters left in street to bring back to teams of attorneys as evidence. If it wasn't for citizens acting as legal observers, the ACLU of Missouri would not have the evidence it needed to file its suit last Friday over police using chemical agents, interfering with video recording of police activity, making arbitrary arrests, and surrounding and confining people to detain them in what is called “kettling.”

As a legal observer, I report objectively about what I witness. As an organizer, a mom of three kids, and a Black woman, it’s really hard to see all the things that are going on. I’ve watched police form lines around innocent protesters or tap their batons to intimidate people who have nothing in their hands except a Black Lives Matter sign.

I saw a man lie down in the middle of the gathering and tell the crowd, “I feel free.” It was an indescribable moment.

Two nights ago, I went back out on the streets to observe the police. Standing on the corner, I saw one little boy who was about 7 years old followed by a group of kids. He was asking for a gas mask to wear and couldn’t find any. I offered them some extra masks I had in my set of supplies. As they put them on and disappeared into the crowd, I thought about my earliest memories as a 5-year-old. For these kids, these will be their memories of growing up in St. Louis.

People are coming together with incredible solidarity because they feel beat down by the justice system and by what they perceive to be injustice. The outpouring of community protests here is not just about demanding justice for Anthony Lamar Smith, or for Mike Brown in Ferguson, but for the situation that so many Black and brown residents face being overpoliced and criminalized.

The level of support community members offering to each other is tremendous. When almost two dozen people were arrested at the St. Louis Galleria on Saturday, many came together to set up camp outside the jail where people were being sent. They brought coolers of water, pizza, and snacks and waited until people were released from jail.

There’s a sense of urgency and determination. In these past two weeks, clergy members have been arrested and assaulted by police. When Reverend Karla Frye reacted to her grandson getting assaulted by the police, she was put in a chokehold and charged with a felony.

The protesters here know that what they are doing is important and the whole nation is watching. Last Sunday, actor Nick Cannon was in the crowd among protestors shouting, “Whose streets? Our streets.” I felt the energy. I saw a man lie down in the middle of the gathering and tell the crowd, “I feel free.” It was an indescribable moment. This solidarity is creating a sense of safety that is rare to feel.

People in St. Louis are asking themselves an important question: Do I feel Black lives matter? People are waking up to the situation Black people in America are in and waking up to the fight for justice. The strong sentiment here is, we survived Ferguson. We don’t want to be here again, but if we must, we’re going to stay together and support each other.

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Photodiva

I've seen whites beat other whites on numerous occasions. It's just not put on the news nightly. When whites kill other whites and it is on the news, it's portrayed in a sympathetic light...he was mentally ill, a victim of opoid addiction, etc. Do some research.

Classic

Your very use of the word “whites” in the context of your response shows the real racist. Grow up, get a job, and quit leaching off the system. Contribute instead of complaining

Anonymous

ALL lives matter. God bless us , guide us and protect us ALL. Love you neighbor.

Anonymous

I trust our courts to look at what the ACLU presents and decide on the merits of evidence. No need to hurl insults.

Anonymous

The fact that the ACLU chooses to tie up the courts with such frivolous lawsuits is itself a massive insult hurled at the face of tax paying Americans who work honest jobs and don’t have time or inclination to manufacture anarchy for profit in the streets of America the way the ACLU and associates do.

Photodiva

Would the lawsuit be frivolous if it was you or your child being choked or pepper sprayed for participating in a peaceful protest? Hell no. By the way, these protesters pay taxes , too. They don't pay those taxes to be manhandled by the police who are sworn to protect them and their right to protest peacefully.

Anonymous

Maleeha Ahmad, I’m sorry you went and got pepper spray all over your face for the ACLU’s photo opp and bogus lawsuit.

But think about it, Maleeha Ahmad, what would they do to you in your own Muslim homeland for helping the anarchists? Doesn’t this show an excellent example of why you have chosen America? Here, you can create anarchy in the streets and the only consequence is pepper spray on your face and the promise of a lucrative lawsuit!

Maleeha Ahmad, I have a feeling you are probably a very intelligent person. I’ll bet you are a doctor or a lawyer.

Maleeha Ahmad, the ACLU is just using you as a pawn in their sick game. Look how they are exploiting your image for their own gain! Don’t let them do this to you! You are better than these ACLU losers!

Your name

You should peacefully protest the ACLU by kneeling, quietly.

Back the Badge

I’m glad to see the police are doing a great job over there in St. Louis and clearing those disorderly leftist radicals from the streets so that the law-abiding citizens can go about their business in peace.

I’m confident the federal courts will agree! You radicals don’t have a leg to stand on in court and you will be tossed out empty-handed, all your filing fees and costs of litigation completely wasted.

Then you will probably create another “news” story about your self-righteous appeal to the Eight Circuit.

And again you’re going to be left holding the bag, your frivolous litigation quietly placed in the archives of closed files, no one even noticing or caring about your manufactured “cause.”

Eventually you’ll get tired of losing and look for an honest job to do with your law degrees. That is, if you can avoid earning yourselves a criminal record through all of this foolishness you are so fond of.

Your name

The ACLU is almost 100 year old non-profit. I'm pretty sure money and prestige is not the motivation behind their work.

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