Federal Judge Grants Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) Banning SLMPD from Using Chemical Weapons Against Peaceful Protesters

In response to outcry from the community and direct legal action on the part of half a dozen protesters, a Federal Judge has granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the St. Louis police preventing them from using chemical weapons against unarmed, peaceful protesters.

Read/download the Judge’s decision here. [Alternate link here.]

Key sections of the document in question are also included below as screen shots:

TearGas1 TearGas2

 

A recent related post (with many updates) can be read here.

Finally, here is the Riverfront Times‘ coverage of the Judge’s decision.

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“[…] how will the Commission address the use of tear gas that is illegal even in international war?” -Aturah

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New eyewitness statements regarding the “gas chamber” at Mokabe’s: Part 2

Before reading the text below, please see this post and this post for context. I [Valéria] am not the author of the italicized text below. The author is Sara, aka @Vipondalicious on Twitter. Any and all questions or comments about this particular piece should be directed to Sara. Thank you. -VMS

***

“Reflections After Analyzing the Assault on MoKaBe’s” – A Statement/Op-Ed
By Sara, AKA
@Vipondalicious (also the author of this compilation of evidence).

It is obvious that the police are not on St. Louis’ streets to protect the community from potentially dangerous situations. It is obvious by both the actions they’ve taken and those they haven’t.

When the police were outnumbered near Grand and Hartford, when the second, angrier, more provocative protest had formed and begun marching, they did nothing to calm the situation down. They didn’t try to engage with the protesters, hear their complaints, or talk about their own experiences as police officers. They didn’t try to keep everyone cool, the way the clergy woman and so many others did at MoKaBe’s. They set their jaws and allowed themselves to become outnumbered and provoked so they could call for reinforcements and bring out their toys.

And when their toys were out, all bets were off. Can’t pull ‘em out and then not play with them, right? For nearly two hours, the police assaulted the people in MoKaBe’s. They used a chemical agent that is BANNED IN WAR to trap civilians inside a building. Twice. They gassed official safe houses. A group of them dragged a passerby off the sidewalk, leaving terrified people yelling, “What’s your name? What’s your name?” after him.

The people who were at MoKaBe’s in the spirit of solidarity could not have represented less of a threat to the police that evening. They were compliant. They were non-violent. They were unarmed. They weren’t on the move. They were on private property at the invitation of the owner.

You can not commit violence against a gathering of people and expect everyone not to panic. You can not assault unarmed civilians and expect people not to be angry about it. You can not use weapons on residential streets and expect people to feel safe. If you have these expectations, then you are not rational. And is this the behavior that we expect of our law enforcement and state security personnel?

If our civil servants cannot conduct themselves with civility towards civilians, then we quite literally can not call our society civilized. [They] are the savages, the brutes, the thugs that [they] accuse [us] of being. [They] are the mindlessly violent criminals. Our calls for peace are a farce.

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New eyewitness statements regarding the “gas chamber” at Mokabe’s: Part 1

In the wake of my original post regarding the events that transpired at Mokabe’s coffee shop on Arsenal in the early morning hours of 11/25/14—and in response to some of the reactions from naysayers, as well as from Chief Dotson himself-—I was approached by two members of the community who asked if I would be willing to publish accounts (or statements) authored by them on my blog.

The first of these statements was provided to me under the condition of anonymity, by “A Resident of Tower Grove South.” (I know and have verified this person’s identity but was only allowed access to the account by guaranteeing I would not reveal the person’s name, etc.)

Below is the text and accompanying evidence (images) sent to me. I have altered nothing about them. -VMS

***

“A View from Outside the ‘Chamber'”
By: A Resident of Tower Grove South [Anonymous]

In light of responses to Valeria’s blog, I am compelled to offer an account of what was going on outside Mokabe’s while she was inside.

Around 11 pm on Mon, 24 Nov, I am returning from a mercifully quiet vigil downtown. As I near my house in Tower Grove South, my phone starts pinging insistently, with messages amounting to  “Are you ok? Grand just got busy.”

From where I sit at the intersection of Gravois and Grand, foot traffic is busier than usual for that time on a weeknight, but I see nothing suspicious or dangerous, so I go home to care for a friend who had been injured earlier in the evening.

Having gotten my friend situated, the noise of choppers and sirens reaches a point where it is less stressful to go out and look than to stay home and wonder what’s happening, so I venture out on my bike.

I ride north on Grand around midnight and find…  not much.  Yes, there had been a number of storefronts knocked out, and there was clear evidence that something heated had taken place. But it was over.

Board up crews are well into their job, neighbors are cleaning up broken glass, and no one is interfering with their work.

Police cars are stretched across Grand at Arsenal and Hartford, preventing thru traffic.  A large group of people are standing in the middle of the street on that block.  Police line the sidewalk on the east side of Grand, by Panera and FedEx. The west side of Grand is moving freely.

A few of the protestors are chanting, but most of them are just standing there, talking amongst themselves or checking their phones. They aren’t doing anything in particular.  Nothing to see here.

So, I continue up to Arsenal, head west, and stop half a block down at St John’s Episcopal Church, one of several area churches to offer itself as a designated sanctuary. Clergy are outside welcoming people in for respite from the cold. The staff has been busy for sure, and say that things had been “pretty hot” a little while ago, but it calmed down.  I’m not that cold, so I stand on the sidewalk to chat a bit longer, then head back to Grand.

A few minutes later, I am standing in front of AJ &R pawnshop, watching as two young people try to convince the group of protestors to walk south on Grand. It is slow going.  The crowd looks tired, and it has thinned out substantially.  The influx of people warming up at St. John’s probably explains some of the change in numbers.

Those who are moving are mindful of the crews cleaning up from earlier vandalism. After all, those who had been engaged in those activities were long gone.

Peering southward, it looked like all of the action for the evening was over– until a friend spotted me from the north side of the block.

“Hey,” she says, ”you need to get out of here. The SWAT team is all geared up over there,” pointing to the north side of Arsenal, where all I could see were a bunch of bright lights blocking Grand a little ways past the intersection. They hadn’t been there a few minutes before.

My friend and I speak for a moment, but we can’t finish our thoughts before shots pop at the other end of the block. My friend refuses leave the area, but promises she will go to St John’s. She insists I promise to go home, so I promise.

The noise- which I soon realize is the sound of tear gas canisters- draws closer and more frequent, progressing north on Grand. As I round the corner at Arsenal, people are headed into both Mokabe’s and St John’s for shelter. Mokabe’s is closer.

I am nearly cut off by a large, black police vehicle. The driver takes the corner a little too tight. While I manage to retain control of my bike, others on foot behind me are not so lucky. I look behind to see several of them fall, and realize I can’t turn around to help them without running into something.

Just as I see someone reach down to them, a gas canister sails over my right shoulder, crossing my body and landing by my front tire. As the bluish smoke seeps out from it, I take a big gulp of air and pedal all the way down to the next light. I blink my stinging eyes in an alternating fashion, clearing each one briefly, as I momentarily navigate with the other. I can’t see what happened to the vehicle that had come so close. But when I turn the corner at the light and stop to rinse my eyes with my water bottle, I realize that neither police nor other protestors have traveled that far.  My glasses are gunky from the gas, so I can’t see particularly well down the block, even though my eyes now feel ok.

The film on my glasses, however, brings me to a word about the tear gas itself:  Because I was on my bike, my exposure was minimized.  I got a good breath before the gas dispersed from the canister, I didn’t get much gas in my eyes, and I rinsed out very quickly. However, I can tell you from that brief experience that the gas this night is not the same composition as what the military uses. It’s worse.

The gas the military uses dissipates quickly. If you do nothing but air yourself out, the stinging goes away in 5-10 minutes.  No residue, no after effects.

The gas the police use this night is mixed with something, causing it to stick around on everything it touches. It’s almost oily. It stays on clothes and skin. It can reactivate upon exposure to water, causing stinging- or even chemical burns- all over again.  It reeks hours later.  Persistent agents like this are dangerous specifically because they prolong and repeat exposure to the irritant.

I later spoke to an MP with the National Guard, who said he’s heard the same thing from friends deployed to Ferguson and environs: the gas that local police are using is a more persistent agent than what the military deploys.

But back to Grand and Arsenal.  This is the end of my eye-witness account, but hardly the end of my evening. I go home, and my friend who said she was going to St John’s didn’t get that far.  She texts me from Mokabe’s.  It is now roughly 1:15 AM:

AnonPhoto1

AnonPhoto2

AnonPhoto3

And I don’t have much to add to that. Using a persistent chemical agent in a residential neighborhood—totally unnecessary.  Gassing a bunch of people standing around in the street, long after any vandals who had been among them were gone— totally unnecessary. Punishing the wrong people by corralling them into a coffee shop and blocking all exits with tear gas and riot lines—totally unnecessary.  Adding fuel to the fire concerning militarization of police and escalation of police brutality—totally unnecessary.

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Welcome to the “gas chamber”: a first-person account of Mokabe’s on the morning of 11/25/14.

Café or military training exercise? You decide.

Café or military training exercise? You decide.

There is a rite of passage employed by many police forces and by the military. It is known as “the gas chamber,” an exercise used in basic training to ensure that recruits know how to properly fit and use a gas mask, and to graphically illustrate the consequences of failing to fit or use a mask properly.

In the early morning hours of Tuesday, November 25th, 2014, I was trapped inside a coffee shop in St. Louis along with dozens of other civilians. We were tear gassed by the police inside this enclosed space, and were subsequently prevented from exiting it for a period of time. In other words, the St. Louis police effectively subjected a group of civilians to the “gas chamber” ritual, but without our knowledge or consent prior to initiating it.

Below is my account of what happened, originally written out for a journalist who asked me a question about it via email. It’s probably going to seem quite telegraphic compared to many of my other posts. This is because it’s been a long week (not even over yet) here in STL, and I got bronchitis after being gassed. I’ll flesh the details out later.

It’s worth adding, too, that Amnesty International has more or less corroborated my entire account, as have other people who were also present. More supporting evidence from additional witnesses and even mainstream media corroborating my account can viewed here, here, here, here, here, and here.

For a long series of updates on this original post (with the latest update occurring on 12/12/14), please scroll to the very bottom.

Outside Mokabe's, at approximately midnight on Tuesday, 11/25 (evening of Monday, 11/24 into Tuesday, 11/25).

Outside Mokabe’s, at approximately midnight on Tuesday, 11/25 (evening of Monday, 11/24 into Tuesday, 11/25). [Click photo to view full size.]

We were at Mokabe’s on Arsenal, having just spent hours in Ferguson protesting and documenting others protesting in front of the Ferguson P.D. As we went to enter the coffee shop, we noticed a police line of cops in full riot gear, along with a tank and some other vehicles. There were some people protesting on the sidewalk outside the coffeeshop. The coffeeshop was open and—-from what I understand—-had designated itself a “safe space.” There was free hot chocolate and free snacks, and it was clearly open to the public. (I am saying this because in the wake of the gassing some people questioned whether I and others had “invaded” and/or “broken into” the café. No, we did not. It was open and we were welcomed there.)

The protesters in front of the coffeeshop were vocal but peaceful. Up on the second floor, where my friends and I sat down to rest and get something to eat and drink, there were a couple of windows. We could see down onto the sidewalk. I witnessed no acts of violence by protesters, no threats, no attempts to come off the sidewalk—–nothing. The protesters were vocal (chanting and so forth) but otherwise non-threatening and, in my opinion, they were lawfully exercising their rights to free speech and assembly:

At one point the police appeared to retreat and the crowd cheered.

This continued for approximately an hour. The windows on the second floor were open. We could hear the protesters and occasionally would look out and see the police line, just staying still (facing off with protesters). Based on what I witnessed, the situation did not appear to be escalating. If anything, it appeared to be calming down.

Some of the protesters dispersed and came into the coffee shop to rest.

There was now almost no one on the sidewalk outside protesting. Everyone appeared to be taking a break. Inside the coffeeshop, the atmosphere was peaceful and relaxed. People were sitting at tables drinking hot chocolate or water and eating snacks. People were charging their phones. If you didn’t know about all the events that had occurred previously that night and you just beamed down into that coffeeshop from Mars, you’d assume it was a typical night in St. Louis. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I did notice 2-3 people from Amnesty International wearing yellow t-shirts that proclaimed their affiliation.

All of a sudden, from outside, I heard: POP-POP-POP-POP-POP-POP!!!!! Some people inside the café yelled things like: “WOAH!” or “What the hell??” Everyone ducked down instinctively because it sounded like possible gunfire.

I got up and went over to one of the second floor windows, along with a few other people. We looked out onto the street below and there was white smoke. Tear gas. You could see it but it wasn’t that thick yet. We felt that on the second floor we’d probably be OK, even with the windows open.

Then, just as quickly, it changed again. We heard more noises (like pops and flare sounds) and then the white cloud of smoke got massive and thick……and headed right towards us.

I started to frantically turn the crank on the window, trying to get it closed. Someone behind me yelled: “SHUT THE WINDOWS!!!! SHUT THE WINDOWS!!!!!” My friend and I cranked one window shut, while some people a few feet away were closing the other second-floor window.

By now we could hear people on the first floor panicking, yelling, coughing, choking. We could see them kind of stampeding inward (like away from the front windows and doors on the first floor), and we could tell they were just trying to get away from the smoke.

I heard a woman call out: “COVER YOUR MOUTHS, Y’ALL!!! COVER YOUR MOUTHS!!!! WRAP SOMETHING AROUND YOUR FACES!!!!!”

I started wrapping my scarf tightly around my face, covering my nose and mouth. I tried to breathe only through my nose. On the second floor, we still thought we might be OK. Maybe we had shut the windows in time. Maybe we would be good.

……and then we smelled it.

That acrid, distinct smell.

Another friend of mine said: “Oh, shit. I’m smelling it…..”

I looked at him and nodded. We knew. We knew we were screwed.

Probably less than 30 seconds later, the gas hit. I will never forget that moment because it felt like someone took a vacuum and sucked all the air out of my chest. Or like I got kicked and had the wind knocked out of me. It was such a potent feeling, I dropped immediately to my knees. I felt my eyes, nose, and mouth burning. The worst part, though, was that feeling in my chest. I thought I was going to suffocate. I wondered if I would die. For some reason, I ripped the scarf off my face even though that possibly made things worse by exposing me to more gas particles. I was not thinking rationally. I remember having only one clear thought in that moment. It was: “Thank God I took Albuterol [a brochodilator people with asthma use to open up the passages in the lungs] around a half hour ago.” That medication possibly prevented me from having a full-on asthma attack.

Now everyone in the coffeeshop—–both floors—–was panicking. We had absolutely nowhere to go. The café was full. Everyone on both floors was feeling the effects of the gas, so it was clear nowhere was safe. People started to run or press against each other, but there was no place to go.

I heard a voice say: “It’s OK! It’s OK, guys! Don’t panic. You can cough. It’s OK to cough. Just don’t panic. This is going to pass; it will stop. Just try not to panic.”

That voice calmed me down. I suspect, in retrospect, that that was one of the Amnesty International workers.

At that point someone discovered a door that led to a basement—–a separate basement, which presumably would have fresh air. “Everyone to the basement! Everyone come down calmly to the basement! There’s fresh air there!”

Everyone filed downstairs and they shut the door. The air in the basement was clean.

Downstairs everyone—–myself included——had tears and snot running out of our eyes and noses. A lot of people were coughing and spitting, trying to get the gas particles out of their lungs and mouths. Everything was burning.

A man came over with a bottle (which I later found out was a mixture of antacid and water used to neutralize the gas) and rinsed our eyes and faces with it. When I took a selfie (on Twitter) labeled “white tear gas residue,” I was mistaken. The white residue was from that bottle—–from having my face and eyes rinsed. A couple of earlier selfies show the snot and tears running from my face.

The burning kept going for what seemed like 10 minutes, and then it finally stopped.

Eventually we all went back upstairs, but we left the windows and doors shut. The police had formed a line directly in front of the coffeeshop, blocking us in. We were trapped inside. There was some confusion about whether we were legally allowed to leave or were effectively being detained:

Riot line outside the front of Mokabe's, approximately 20-30 minutes after gassing us.

Riot line outside the front of Mokabe’s, approximately 20-30 minutes after gassing us.

Some people did get out. I think they gassed us again, because I remember we again had to hide in the basement. Eventually some of us escaped out the back door and ran on foot to a church nearby.

As I was running I could see, hear, and smell more gas canisters being deployed on the streets. It seemed like they were trying to trap us into smaller and smaller spaces. No one understood then—–or understands now—–why we were targeted inside Mokabe’s.

We do not think this was an accident.

It seems like the police intentionally trapped us in the coffeeshop and then gassed us inside, knowing full well they would create a “gas chamber” from which we’d be temporarily unable to escape.

And they did this while we were vulnerable——relaxed, not protesting, not doing anything other than sitting down and talking as one would on any other day inside a coffeeshop. We were fully unprepared for this. We’d let our guard down.

To me, the most disturbing aspect of this was the entrapment, and the fact that they attacked us without provocation. Amnesty workers salvaged some of the gas cans from the scene, and based on the labeling of the cans what they used was CS gas, which is specifically not supposed to be used in enclosed spaces, since it can cause death.

I saw the police entrap groups of people in other ways earlier that same night in Ferguson (like forming tight circles around them) and then gas them. They are deploying chemical warfare against civilians even when unprovoked. This is a human rights violation.

***

UPDATES TO THIS POST [IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER]:

UPDATE #1 [11/30/14, 20:44H CST]: Yet more footage has emerged, shot from outside the café.

UPDATE #2 [12/1/14, 16:45H CST]: Chilling screen captures from St. Louis Cop Talk—a message board comprised of current and former members of law enforcement—reveal that Mokabe’s may have been intentionally targeted last week.

UPDATE #3 [12/3/14, 13:23H CST]: St. Louis Police Chief Dotson has issued a series of responses to the Mokabe’s gassing incident which were published in The Riverfront Times. They can be read here.

UPDATE #4 [12/4/14, 01:17H CST]: Two new eyewitness accounts of the incident at Mokabe’s have emerged. They can be viewed here and here. (More video is potentially forthcoming over the next day or so….)

UPDATE #5 [12/6/14, 08:58H CST]: New footage of both the interior and exterior of the coffeeshop (shot by livestreamer @Rebelutionary_Z and edited/compiled by @Vipondalicious) has emerged and, yet again, it corroborates all other eyewitness accounts. There is now some evidence to suggest that at least one gas canister was either launched, or “accidentally” landed INSIDE Mokabe’s. View the footage here:

UPDATE #6 [12/6/14, 09:20H CST]: This. is. not. over:

MokabesEmployeesUPDATE #7 [12/11/14, 11:06H CST]: Here is the Riverfront Times’ follow-up story on the gassing—-a product of all the new footage and eyewitness accounts that have emerged over the past couple of weeks. Additional related post/video here.

UPDATE #8 [12/12/14, 02:25H CST]: In response to massive public outcry and direct legal action on the part of half a dozen protesters, a Federal Judge has issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) banning (in some situations) or setting severe legal limits (in other situations) the use of chemical weapons against unarmed, peaceful protesters. I would like to personally express my deep gratitude to lead co-plaintiffs Alexis, Brittany, and Kira for their testimony and hard work in getting the TRO issued. Nothing but respect and love for you all.

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Bradley Garrett on “The Value of Trespass”

“This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. Urban exploration (UE) is the assertion of bodily freedom through the practice of trespass. Governments, corporations, and fellow citizens raise countless borders, and rarely do we discuss whether these borders are ethical, justified or even legal. Often, we’re not even aware they exist or how they shape our lives. By hacking the city, UE democratizes urban space and questions the legitimacy of the lines that divide us.

Bradley L. Garrett is a lecturer in the Economy, Governance & Culture Research Group at the University of Southampton with a passion for photography of off-limits places. His first book, Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City (Verso Books 2013), is an account of his adventures trespassing into ruins, tunnels and skyscrapers in eight different countries. Details of his current research, media projects, publications and events can be found at bradleygarrett.com”

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anna schuleit’s “bloom”

valeriamsouza:

Absolutely amazing project, courtesy of Sara Hendren’s blog, “Abler.”

Originally posted on Abler.:

Anna Schuleit’s Bloom is one of my long-held favorite installation works, and it’s a perfect Abler project. So why haven’t I featured it before now?

a view down an institutional hallway, whose floor is full from end to end and side to side with blooming bright orange tulips.

It was staged at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in 2003, in the days before the center shut down, after nine decades of patient care. Schuleit covered the entire four floors with 5,600 square feet of sod and 28,000 blooming flowers.

Schuleit says the work addresses, in part, the strange lack of flowers in psychiatric settings, while they appear everywhere in other clinical environments. That distinction packs so many assumptions about who is sick, and why, and how.

an institutional basement, with peeling paint, whose floor is covered with soft green grass

And it’s impossible not to consider the modes of care, such as it was—restraint, or nurturance, or abuse—that would have transpired in a many-decades-old institution. These settings are always an index of the wider culture, revealing how we care for those whose maladies often can’t be seen.

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