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Police Fired Tear Gas at Coffee Shop in St. Louis That Was Supposed ‘Safe Space’—Twice

Police deployed in riot gear fired tear gas directly at a coffee shop in St. Louis early in the morning on Tuesday.

The scene unfolded just hours after an announcement by St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, that a grand jury had found no “probable cause” to indict white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for killing an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, on August 9.

Rachel O’Leary, who is the Deputy Executive Director for Field Organizing for Amnesty International USA, was in MoKaBe’s Coffeehouse in the Shaw neighborhood with some members of a delegation of human rights observers. About 1 am—or just after—tear gas was fired.

“We noticed police behaving strangely,” O’Leary recalled. “They were squatting down in a group, and we couldn’t figure out what was happening. We were watching this out the window.”

A couple of people ran around the corner “from off of Grand” and a “militarized vehicle” followed quickly behind them. The vehicle shot a projectile at people who were running. The police then “turned their guns,” which had tear gas canisters, and “fired directly on the coffee shop,” according to O’Leary.

O’Leary watched the tear gas hit the ground outside the coffee shop. The gas came inside the building, which MoKaBe’s had announced on November 10 would serve as a “safe space” for “activists and protestors beginning as soon as the grand jury announcement” was made.

There were children inside. People of all ages were trapped inside of the coffeehouse. Windows were closed and O’Leary said she grabbed her gas mask and there were a couple of spare gas masks shared with people.

Five to ten minutes later, O’Leary and others went outside. Police were still standing in the area. A few people expressed their anger with police and yelled at them for firing tear gas. Some in the group tried to de-escalate the situation. More human rights observers with Amnesty International were called to the scene.

“We had human rights observers standing on the streets when the police fired tear gas at us a second time,” O’Leary stated. The delegation of observers were separated. Half were able to get back into the coffee shop while the other half took off running on foot.

“Two of our delegates were stuck, blocked off from running or getting into the coffee shop,” O’Leary said. Police “fired projectiles” at their feet. “We don’t really know if they were rubber bullets or pellets.”

O’Leary added, “One of our delegates seems to have been struck in the arm by a canister of gas.”

The same scene repeated with people running back in the coffee shop to close all the doors. The police were at the door and no one opened it. Soon after, people left through the back door and went to another “safe space” in Shaw, St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Valéria M. Souza, a college professor in St. Louis, also witnessed the tear gassing by police. “They just tear gassed an enclosed coffee shop of people doing nothing but congregating,” Souza said in a message from her personal Twitter account.

She took photos of the “white tear gas residue” that was on her face as well as a photo of people trapped inside MoKaBe’s who could not leave. Some of the people decided to hide in the basement of the coffee shop.

O’Leary had no idea why the police had chosen to fire tear gas at people congregating in a coffee shop. There were no commands given.

“Amnesty International’s position is aggressive policing tactics like this infringe upon the right to peaceful protest. In this case, it was not a peaceful protest. There were people congregating at a coffee shop, which is private property,” O’Leary explained.

“Law enforcement should prioritize protecting peaceful protest and should be not inhibiting through intimidation or use of heavy riot gear or military weapons and tear gas. The type of methods and weapons like this are a flagrant abuse of authority when used against people who are gathering in a coffeehouse.”

Before the announcement, MoKaBe’s Coffeehouse plan to allow activists and protesters to use the coffee shop as a “safe space” had received attention when it infuriated people on the St. Louis CopTalk message board, who commented in a thread titled, “A Business that Supports Cop Killers.”

One user wrote that MoKaBe’s Coffeehouse supported “cop killing” (in quotes, even though those words never appeared in the business’ announcement). The user ranted about the coffee shop acting as a “safe place” for protesters “after the grand jury makes their announcement.”

“The community needs to know the names of businesses who support cop killers!” the user exclaimed.

Whether police views of MoKaBe’s Coffeehouse choosing to act as a “safe space” played a role in the decision to fire tear gas is unknown.

When police were dispersing protesters after a few individuals started to throw rocks and bottles and a police car caught fire, tear gas was being fired into residential neighborhoods, according to a livestream broadcast by Bassem Masri. CNN hosts Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon were hit by tear gas while they were talking on camera about what they were seeing in Ferguson. And, nearby, a woman was having a heart attack or some kind of serious medical issue when tear gas was fired at a crowd. It engulfed the area around her as people pleaded for police to help her.

Altogether, it was only in a few isolated areas of Ferguson and other parts of the St. Louis area that problems of vandalism and looting occurred. The authorities had plenty of time to prepare so that people committing such criminal acts could be dealt with and people congregating peacefully or exercising their right to freedom of assembly could remain on sidewalks. But the police seemed to once again choose collective punishment and forced the dispersal of hundreds of people through the use of military force, including the use of tear gas.

Update

Video of police firing tear gas while woman was having what a group thought was a heart attack:

CommunityFDL Main BlogThe Dissenter

Police Fired Tear Gas at Coffee Shop in St. Louis That Was Supposed ‘Safe Space’ – Twice

Police deployed in riot gear fired tear gas directly at a coffee shop in St. Louis early in the morning on Tuesday.

The scene unfolded just hours after an announcement by St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, that a grand jury had found no “probable cause” to indict white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for killing an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, on August 9.

Rachel O’Leary, who is the Deputy Executive Director for Field Organizing for Amnesty International USA, was in MoKaBe’s Coffeehouse in the Shaw neighborhood with some members of a delegation of human rights observers. About 1 am—or just after—tear gas was fired.

“We noticed police behaving strangely,” O’Leary recalled. “They were squatting down in a group, and we couldn’t figure out what was happening. We were watching this out the window.”

A couple of people ran around the corner “from off of Grand” and a “militarized vehicle” followed quickly behind them. The vehicle shot a projectile at people who were running. The police then “turned their guns,” which had tear gas canisters, and “fired directly on the coffee shop,” according to O’Leary.

O’Leary watched the tear gas hit the ground outside the coffee shop. The gas came inside the building, which MoKaBe’s had announced on November 10 would serve as a “safe space” for “activists and protestors beginning as soon as the grand jury announcement” was made.

There were children inside. People of all ages were trapped inside of the coffeehouse. Windows were closed and O’Leary said she grabbed her gas mask and there were a couple of spare gas masks shared with people.

Five to ten minutes later, O’Leary and others went outside. Police were still standing in the area. A few people expressed their anger with police and yelled at them for firing tear gas. Some in the group tried to de-escalate the situation. More human rights observers with Amnesty International were called to the scene.

“We had human rights observers standing on the streets when the police fired tear gas at us a second time,” O’Leary stated. The delegation of observers were separated. Half were able to get back into the coffee shop while the other half took off running on foot.

“Two of our delegates were stuck, blocked off from running or getting into the coffee shop,” O’Leary said. Police “fired projectiles” at their feet. “We don’t really know if they were rubber bullets or pellets.”

O’Leary added, “One of our delegates seems to have been struck in the arm by a canister of gas.”

The same scene repeated with people running back in the coffee shop to close all the doors. The police were at the door and no one opened it. Soon after, people left through the back door and went to another “safe space” in Shaw, St. John’s Episcopal Church. [cont’d.] (more…)

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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