By Veronica Mackey
What began as uproar over the murder of a Missouri teen has become a breeding ground for civil rights violations as well.
The use of rubber bullets and tear gas, forcibly removing protestors and taking away personal property has led to the first two federal lawsuits being filed in connection with the Michael Brown killing.
The August 9 shooting death of the black unarmed teenager by white police officer Darren Wilson has sparked more than a week of violence, looting, curfews and deployment by the National Guard,
Missouri news sources report that the lawsuits, filed in the Eastern District of Missouri, accuse law enforcement of civil rights violations. The filings name the County of Saint Louis, the City of Ferguson, and Ronald Replogle, Superintendent of the Missouri Highway Patrol.
Complicating an already volatile situation, actions of Ferguson police to shut down access to information has made matters worse.
One lawsuit states members of law enforcement interfered in the plaintiff's right to record interactions between police and demonstrators. It also said the plaintiff had to give up his “First Amendment right to record the actions unfolding on the street” or risk going to jail. The suit is calling for a restraining order to prevent law enforcement from making citizens stop recording.
The second lawsuit says the right to peaceful assembly has been violated. It states that law enforcement in Ferguson forced demonstrators to move after standing more than five seconds on a public sidewalk.
Once the first lawsuit was filed, law enforcement and the filer came to the agreement that police would not interfere with recording the protests.
Reporters are being heavily targeted. Journalists are reportedly being ushered into a “press” area far away from the action, and asked multiple times to either turn their cameras or camera lights off.
CNN Reporter, Don Lemon remarked, “Now you see why people are upset. They moved us over here, but we’re on national television. Imagine what they do to people who you don’t see on television, who have no voice. You’ve been standing here all day, exercising your right to protest. Then the police come and they don’t like what you say. The rules change and then they move you.”
Lemon was pushed back several times by police as he made this statement.
According to blogger Rebecca Rose (Jezabel.com), “Mustafa Hussein, a student contributing to the volunteer-run KARG Argus Radio and who was manning the station’s live stream from West Florissant Ave., is threatened at gunpoint by a police officer unwilling to be recorded on camera.”
Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly who wasn’t even at the scene, was arrested at a McDonald's he was working out of. When he took a photo, an officer demanded to see his ID.
“Last I checked, taking a photo was not something that required an ID in this country,” Rose writes.
The draconian tactics of police to try and suppress protestors and reporters have only served to make the story bigger. It has blown up all over social media, as controversy tends to do. Justified Agitator tweeted on August 19, “I’m live tweeting because there’s a media blackout.”
Rose wrote on her blog: “Via the I Am Mike Brown livesteam (http://new.livestream.com), KARG Argus Radio, viewers watched as police fired rubber bullets into crowds of unarmed citizens. We watched as police advanced on a group of peaceful demonstrators. I Am Mike Brown livestream reported police were demanding that they turn off their cameras. "Because they don't want witnesses…”
On August 19, Twitter News posted this headline: “90 year-old woman arrested in Ferguson.” Hedy Epstein, a human rights activist and 90-year-old Holocaust survivor, was arrested in front of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s office in St. Louis along with seven other protesters.
Epstein was (gently) escorted by police from the premises and charged with “blocking the entrance” of the building.
A devoted activist all her life, Epstein said, “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I'd have to do it when I was 90.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder came to Missouri to meet with Ferguson officials on Wednesday. He said the Justice Dept. will do its own investigation into the death of Michael Brown and possible civil rights violations,
Meanwhile a blog was been created, specifically for the Ferguson situation, to keep people in the know. Keepupwithferguson.tumblr.com “accumulate(s) all circulating internet information about what is going down in #Ferguson in light of the Michael Brown murder, and other similar shootings experienced by African Americans around the country. Everyone needs to keep talking about it, everyone needs to keep the information flowing and the flame alive. It's the only chance. “