The National Lawyers Guild had legal observers on the ground in Ferguson to monitor protests against the killing of unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, by a Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. They were also present to help with jail support for community residents. But, while working, four of the NLG’s observers fell victim to the police occupation they were trying to help Ferguson fight and were arrested.
As Dennis Black, one of the legal observers arrested, commented, “Ferguson is a pilot program of what’s to come when communities respond to police brutality.” He and others had traveled from Detroit to see a preview of what police might do to squelch uprisings there.
Black and two other volunteers were arrested on August 21 about 10:30 pm. He explained that observers were concerned about police in body armor, who were stationed by a car wash on West Florissant Avenue across from what used to be a QuikTrip. They believed if anything was going to happen involving police it would happen here. They chose to record and document what police were doing.
Neither of the legal observers were permitted to stand in place for too long because of a rule imposed by the police. They kept walking back and forth with their cameras. About the third or fourth time they came back around, a female legal observer Black was with was arrested.
Black was on his walkie talkie informing others with the NLG that she was under arrest when he was ordered to stop and placed under arrest. Anthony, a legal observer, came over to see what was happening. He was arrested too.
Police told the female legal observer that they were not supposed to be engaged in surveillance of police. She also was ridiculed and harassed for being a legal observer. All of them were accused of “failure to disperse.”
Black and the other two legal observers were taken to the command center in the parking lot of the Target, where they had their personal identifying information taken by police. One of the officers also asked if Black had any questions. He asked if he was under arrest. They said, no, he was just in custody. The officer could not provide much more additional information because he was not the arresting officer.
The legal observers were taken to the police station in Clayton, Missouri, where they were released after a few hours when the protest was over.