Five people are suing the Missouri police for $40 million, claiming officers treated US citizens “as if they were war combatants.” The five were arrested in the wake of rioting and unrest following the death of teenager Michael Brown on August 9.
The group claims they were going about their everyday business before they were assaulted and arrested by the police who showed, “militaristic displays of force and weaponry.” The defendants in the case are the city of Ferguson, St. Louis County, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Delmar, Ferguson police officer Justin Cosmo, as well as other police officers from Ferguson and St. Louis County, Reuters reports.
The alleged incidents took place between August 11 and 13. One of the plaintiffs includes a 17-year-old who was arrested and allegedly ‘roughed up’ by police at a McDonald’s restaurant along with his mother, Tracey White, for simply not leaving the fast food chain quickly enough. According to the suit which has been filed, officers with rifles threw the mother to the ground before handcuffing her and her son.
White claims she was arrested because she would “not shut up.” She and her son were detained for five hours by police, she says, adding “It was so horrifying” and “we did nothing wrong,” according to AP.
— Anonymous Press (@AnonymousPress) August 28, 2014
Dwayne Anton Matthews Jr., 23, says he was shot by rubber bullets as he walked through the protest zone, trying to get to his mother’s house. The lawsuit says that he fell into a creek or sewer, where police officers "pounced on him, slammed his face into the concrete and pushed his head under water to the point that he felt he was going to be drowned."
He also alleges that police called him a “coon” and a “mophead,” in reference to the long dreadlocks that he wears.
The case was brought by attorney Reginald Greene, who said, "This is a blatant example of how police handle African-Americans ... how it can go terribly, terribly wrong. You have a right to peaceful assembly."
— Reginald ESQ (@TheSuperLawyer) August 28, 2014
Two other plaintiffs said they were protesting peacefully in Ferguson when law enforcement officers fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at them, while another said he was arrested for simply trying to film the protests on his camera.
Journalists have also not been able to escape police violence, simply for doing their jobs. Jasmine Heiss, an observer with Amnesty International, expressed concern over reports that journalists were being teargassed while performing their jobs.
“Just last night I’ve heard several journalists and community say that either gas was thrown at them while they were reporting or, in the case of the community members, that gas was thrown into residential neighborhoods while they were walking,” Heiss told RT on August 20.
A number of journalists have been arrested and have had to face intimidation from law enforcement officers. In one heated encounter, a police officer is actually caught on video telling journalists, "I'm going to f***ing kill you!"
According to AP, attorney Malik Shabazz said the lawsuit could be broadened to include additional plaintiffs. Shabazz, who is a member of the group Black Lawyers for Justice, said, "The police were completely out of control," and "in those initial days, it was virtually a police riot,” AP reported. Law enforcement officials in Ferguson declined comment on the case.
Speaking on August 14, US Attorney General Eric Holder condemned the tactics used by the police in making an already-volatile situation even worse.
"At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message," he said.
US President Barack Obama attended Brown’s funeral on Monday and said that he would review the distribution of military hardware to state and local police, a senior administration official said on August 23.
Brown, 18, who was unarmed, was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9. Witnesses say the teenager had put his hands up in the air before he was shot multiple times in the head and chest.
Police give a different account, saying Brown was shot in a struggle with a gun in a police car, but have not said why Brown was in the car. At least one shot was fired during the struggle and then the officer fired more shots before leaving the car, police said.
The officer at the center of the scandal, Darren Wilson, has been given leave of absence from work on full pay, but has not been arrested.
Once a mainly white town, Ferguson’s demographics have changed significantly in recent years, with around two thirds of the 21,000 population now black. However, this is not reflected in the local police force, with just three black officers out of a total of 53.