NCBL's Legal Observing from The Front Lines - St. Louis, MO
Many thanks to the NCBL Board of Directors, NLG National Office, and NLG-LA for supporting my travel stipend to St. Louis where NCBL joined the NLG legal observer efforts. As you already know St. Louis Officer Stockley was acquitted for the murder of Anthony Lamar Smith sparking civil unrest throughout the city. I arrived late Tuesday evening staying at the home of Prof. Shanti Parikh and her family at Washington U. I spent the next day trying to connect with the NLG-STL LO coordinator only to find out there is no legal hub. The on-the-ground situation is fluid making it difficult to identify the organizing cells and roving actions around town.
However, Shanti who is an anthropologist shuttled me around town looking for activist, asking "where are the activist?" We finally located an activist tent in front of city hall and was told to attend the city council meeting at 2pm. Tensions ran high where residents staged an in-house protest urging council members to vote in support of purchasing body cameras for St. Louis police officers. Later in the day approximately 100 demonstrators marched down Brentwood street toward the Galleria Mall in an upper middle-class area. They were met by an aggressive show of militarized riot police using military grade weapons to disperse the crowd. Both non-lethal (orange colored shotgun) and lethal weapons (AR15) were used during this staging to push back the demonstrators (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1 Photo Credit: Jill M. Humphries. St. Louis Riot Police, September 20, 2017, St. Louis, MO.
For a quick moment tensions ran high as I attempted to discern whether a dispersal order (DO) was given. One of the challenges of doing this work is each police locale has its' own social norms about how quickly they will enforce a DO. I wasn't trying to get arrested. I immediately asked my STL LO counterpart, "was that a dispersal order?" In fact, it was as we were pushed back down the street by an aggressive show of force by the police.
Fig. 2 Photo Credit: Jill M. Humphries. St. Louis Riot Police, September 20, 2017, St. Louis, MO.
As a legal observer with over a decade of experience facing a squad of riot police always elicits a hyper vigilant response that comes with encountering or being confronted with danger. Shanti, recounted the armored tanks reminded her of apartheid South Africa. I agreed. Learning the nuts & bolts of legal observing are only gained in the field. While conversing with a street medic whose day job is as a fireman, I asked him how best to protect myself against tear gas and other chemical substances. He advised me to purchase a paint mask sold at Home Depot. The masks have replaceable filters and are relatively inexpensive given the alternative being exposed to a chemical agent that chokes you out!
Fig. 3 Photo Credit: Jill M. Humphries. St. Louis Riot Police & Armored Vehicle. September 20, 2017, St. Louis, MO.
At the end of the day I returned to the homestead being greeted by Shanti's two beautiful sons Jason (9) and Julian (7) who asked me about my day, "Miss. Jill did you attend the protest?" "Yes" and "What is that picture of?" "Julian, this is a tear gas canister that is used to disperse crowds."
Fig. 4 Photo Credit: Jill M. Humphries. Triple Chase Teargas Canister. St. Louis, MO, September 20, 2017.
Contributions are greatly appreciated as Legal Observers we are volunteers who contribute our time and energy to protect our human and first amendment rights. Donation transactions can be made via the Zelle app: To Jill Humphries, firstname.lastname@example.org.