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Ferguson Police Stomp All Over First Amendment By Arresting Protesters For Bad Language

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What began as a day filled with severe rain storms and an opportunity for a number of Ferguson protesters to take a break from demonstrating ended with the Ferguson police department once again abusing the 1st Amendment in an effort to intimidate activists and protesters. We have seen law enforcement in the area try to enforce a ‘five second rule,’ where they tell protesters they can demonstrate as long as they remain moving. The ACLU is challenging this arbitrary rule, claiming it violates the rights of demonstrators. On Thursday night, police decided to arrest 10 protesters, including a freelance journalist reporting for CNN, for standing on the sidewalk and cursing. Yes, you heard that right; they were arrested for foul language.

Due to heavy rain storms throughout the day and continuing into the evening, only a handful of protesters actually showed up outside of the Ferguson police department Thursday night. Typically, there is a robust group of at least 50 protesters gathered every evening making their voices heard. The numbers tend to fluctuate throughout any given evening, with the die-hards finally calling it a night around 3 or 4 AM. Thursday night, about 25 to 30 protesters were gathered after 11 PM local time. From what I was told by those on the scene at the time, about half of the protesters were on the sidewalk next to the police station while the other half were across the street.

At some point, the police that were gathered outside to confront the small but passionate group of people decided to use a new tactic to intimidate protesters. The police announced that anyone using abusive language that incites violence will be arrested. Patricia Bynes, a Democratic delegate from the area, tweeted that this was definitely a new one that they hadn’t heard in the 50+ days since Michael Brown’s death, when the protests began.



Shortly after that announcement, the police rounded up 10 protesters. They stated it was because the demonstrators on the sidewalk by the police station used abusive language. One of those arrested was Mary Moore, a freelance reporter who is working with CNN to provide on the ground reports from Ferguson. She was taking video of the arrests as they were happening, so the police decided to snatch her up, too. Ms. Moore showed the police her press credentials, but that did not matter. The police processed her along with other protesters.

The Washington Post obtained a cell phone video from the scene shortly after the arrests were made:



After hearing the news via Twitter, I made my way over to the police station. By that point, they had already taken the arrested demonstrators and reporter to different jurisdictions to be processed and jailed for the night. When I arrived, there were still about 20 people on the scene, mostly activists from different local organizations who have been active in the area since Brown’s death. Bynes was also still there. Per the protesters on the scene, the Ferguson police arrested people merely for using dirty language. (Unconfirmed reports have it that some said ‘f*ck the police.’) It was the simple case of the police, noticing that there was only a small group of protesters active Thursday night, decided to take advantage of the numbers and bully and intimidate those who were there, 1st Amendment be damned.


By Friday afternoon, Moore had been released from jail without needing to post bail, apparently due to a technicality. However, a number of protesters were still locked up as of mid-afternoon Friday after being arrested for throwing F-bombs at police officers. The thing is, even if all of them had been released 20 minutes after being arrested, an awful precedent has been set. Free speech will not be tolerated. Of course, awful precedents have been the norm lately in Ferguson.


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