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:




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

  1. Pingback: New eyewitness statements regarding the “gas chamber” at Mokabe’s: Part 2 | It's complicated.

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

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