Judge Reins in St. Louis PD in Handling Protests

During the protests against racist policing in St. Louis, several of my friends have been arrested or roughed up (or both) by cops. I’m happy to see that a federal judge is intervening to prevent the police from abusing their authority and using unnecessary force to quash those protests.

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U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry’s order says that police can’t declare an “unlawful assembly” and enforce it against those “engaged in expressive activity, unless the persons are acting in concert to pose an imminent threat to use force or violence or to violate a criminal law with force or violence.”

Police also can’t use that unlawful assembly order or threaten the use of chemical agents to punish protesters for exercising their rights, she wrote.

Perry barred the use of pepper spray, mace and other chemical agents against “expressive, non-violent activity” without probable cause to make an arrest and without providing “clear and unambiguous warnings” and an opportunity to heed those warnings.

Police cannot give dispersal orders without giving people specifics about what area they must leave, what chemical will be used, time enough to leave and allowing a way to leave that area, she wrote.

The suit was filed by the ACLU on behalf of protesters who have been targeted by police for all manner of illegal actions. As is so often the case in situations like this, a small number of people go there looking for trouble and violence and the police then use their actions as a pretext to prevent the far larger group of peaceful protesters from exercising their constitutional rights. This is why we have a Bill of Rights and courts to enforce those rights.

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