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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Ian Thomas

As a person identified as white, I stand in support of your efforts.

Pierre Childress

Thanks for being there. We will figure out the rest America. One team, one fight!

Womanish Rev.

The Rev. Dr. Frye and so msny otherwise of my sister clergy in the St. Louis area are among those who are bringing power to truth. I call the roll this morning for Rev. Dr. Frye and her exoneration, the Rev. Blackmon, the Rev. Green, the Rev. Casey, the Rev. Anderson and our brother clergy. Please join our international effort on FB of "1000 Grandmothers Praying for Justice in MO and Rev Grandmother Karla Frye." As a praying grandmother, my hesitancy to share this was overidden when the words of the Rev. Dr. King came to me, "only love ❤️ can drive out hate." And then also the words of Anna Julia Cooper who said in 1892 "Only the Black woman can say when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Nego race enters with me."

Womanish Rev.

"Many" no edit function here.

Aproudliberal

Keep up the great work.

Anonymous

Honest and balanced reporting? No comments about the rocks being thrown at the police, windows broken or cars veing burned, the verbal taunts, and refusal to disperse when violence is taking place? A cry for police to be disversified and yet black policemen are called Uncle Tom? Michael Brown was found to have attacked the policeman by the FBI and the policeman was cleared of wrong doing? Travay Martin thrown out his house by his mother for she could not control him, thrown out of school for fighting, and yet portrayed as a choir boy? Clark in Minneapolis whose DNA was found on the police handgun and yet declared by members of his community as unjustified in being shot? When talking of percentages, there is a greater chance of a policeman killed by a black person than a white person?
Balanced dialogue is needed to resolve our differences and a realistic look at the facts.

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Anonymous

Great work, keep it up. Don't mind Nazi huggers, trunk lovers and the like.

Carol Anne

Thank you for what you are doing. It takes tremendous inner strength and courage. Black women are the strongest women on the planet.

Anonymous

Says objectively but the way you actually right your article we definitely know you are with the Antifas.

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