The St. Louis County Police showed up at the St. Mark’s Church nearby Ferguson, which the community has been using as a “safe space” for Ferguson and other community residents. Organizers were uncertain of what was taken but maintained that police were sending a message that not even this space was a place residents could go and be safe.
A volunteer, John Chasnoff, who has been working as part of a coalition to transform the space into a “humanitarian shelter,” said that the space has been open from about 7 am to 2 am so that people are there to help anyone who might need assistance. For example, community members can come get water, go inside to escape the summer heat or they could get help if they have just been hit with tear gas.
Another organizer in Ferguson, Philip Agnew, who is from Florida and has done work with The Dream Defenders, explained to people that this is a “safe space” for community to “be rehabilitated” and “be healed,” where they can come if something happens and regain their composure so they can go back out and “face what the police are doing to the community.”
But, on Wednesday, at least six or seven police officers came to the school building and threatened the church with arrests if they continued to allow people to be in the church at night. Police claimed the church did not have the proper “occupancy permit.” Legal support was seeking answers from police so the pastor of the church could figure out whether the school building could be open this evening or not.
The police apparently showed interest in gas masks and the Maalox that the organizers have had in the building. It was initially reported that these materials were confiscated. It does not appear at the moment that anything was taken.
Over the past two nights, however, police have come to St. Mark’s with guns. They’ve taken out their rifles and lined the church, according to a volunteer named Tinjinwe. She said they’ve lined the church and complained about people coming and out with gas masks on.
Tinjinwe also recounted how police had put lights on and “blasted them at the church.” They had to get people to go stand outside the space to make sure when people arrived at the church they could be brought inside.
The police “are escalating their violence and aggression on the only safe space we got right now in Ferguson,” Tinjinwe declared.
Agnew argued, “This is a clear act of aggression. People have said we’ve been speaking in hyperbole about what the police have been doing. They say we have been exaggerating the aggressiveness of the police force out here. But, in no uncertain terms, this was a place where this community deemed a place where we could come and feel safe. And what they did today is tell us there is no safety here.”
“They can come here whenever they want, they can take whatever they want and at night whatever they do to you you can find no safety.”
More on this church and the role it is playing in helping the Ferguson community, as things develop.