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Missouri Black Legislators Want Arrest Charges Dropped For Non-Violent Protesters

The Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City.
Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City.

The Missouri General Assembly’s 19-member Black Legislative Caucus is asking that Ferguson drop the charges for non-violent protesters who have been arrested since demonstrations began following the Aug. 9 shooting that killed Michael Brown.

In a release issued Monday, the caucus called for the city to set up “a restorative justice plan in lieu of municipal fines for the non-violent protesters that have been arrested.”

The group said it is referring to people “detained in violation of their constitutionally protected rights such as the right to assemble, right of freedom of speech and the right of freedom of the press.”

The caucus’ vice chair, state Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis, explained in an interview, “We want basically for those charges to be removed for those protesters -- basically, an amnesty program.”

May said the aim was to prevent peaceful protesters from accumulating arrest records, which could affect other aspects of their lives.

She emphasized, however, that the amnesty request wouldn’t include any protesters charged with acts of violence.  The caucus isn’t asking that those charges be dropped, she said. “We’re not condoning any actions of breaking windows, looting or violence.”

In the release, the caucus said its complaints referred, in part, to “procedural violations such as officers removing their name tags and badge numbers, citizens being forced to protest in moving processions that resulted in arrests for those who failed to comply, members of the media arrested for documenting aggressive police behavior, tear gas being shot into crowds of citizens observing and or protesting non-violently.”

May said a letter is being sent to members of the Ferguson City Council, the mayor, the city manager and the prosecutor.  The caucus hopes to work with those officials to come up with a resolution, she said.

Meanwhile, the caucus members also are meeting to discuss what pieces of legislation related to the Ferguson unrest that it hopes to advance with the General Assembly goes back into session in January.

So far, May said, no firm decisions have been made.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.