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Florissant Police Use Pepper Spray, Batons In Arrest Of 17 Protesters

Live streams of the protest showed members of the Florissant Police Department hitting protesters with batons, spraying them with pepper spray and making arrests.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Livestreams of the protest showed members of the Florissant Police Department hitting protesters with batons, spraying them with pepper spray and making arrests.

Updated at 10:30 a.m. July 7 with a video released by Florissant Police

Florissant police arrested 17 demonstrators Sunday night outside their headquarters and used batons and pepper spray to clear people from the department's parking lot.

Demonstrators have gathered for weeks in Florissant to protest police brutality and demand that police stop killing Black people. Dozens of protesters Sunday stood shoulder to shoulder, carrying signs and chanting “Black Lives Matter.” Some parked vehicles on North Lindbergh Boulevard to block traffic in front of the police station.

Shortly after 9 p.m., livestreams of the protest showed police arresting several demonstrators and pushing the rest of the crowd onto the road. This came after officers gave multiple orders for the crowd to disperse. Officers dressed in riot gear hit protesters with batons and used pepper spray to drive the crowd back.

Police also had two vehicles towed from the road. The department said in a Facebook post late Sunday that several protesters committed property damage and threw "numerous objects" at officers. By Monday night, the department posted a video to their page that appears to show protesters writing on wooden boards covering the station’s windows and a statue, prying one plywood board from a window and spray painting the side of the building.

Officers returned to the police station just after 10:30 p.m., after activists’ cars were towed and North Lindbergh Boulevard reopened to traffic. 

Organizers with ExpectUs, the group responsible for Sunday night’s demonstration, said on Monday the police department spread a false narrative that demonstrators initiated the violence.

The Rev. Darryl Gray helped organize the protest and was one of the people pepper-sprayed by police. He pointed at a plywood box in front of the police station where demonstrators wrote “defund the police” and other protest chants with markers. 

“This is the property damage that caused dozens of police officers to come out in full riot gear and initiate contact with nonviolent protesters,” Gray said.

By Monday afternoon, the Florissant Police Department painted over protesters' hand-written demands and mantras on the plywood box that protects a statue.  7/6/2020
Credit Kayla Drake | St. Louis Public Radio
By Monday afternoon, the Florissant Police Department painted over protesters' handwritten demands and slogans on the plywood box that protects a statue.

By Monday afternoon, the messages had been painted over. Florissant city staff installed the box to protect a statue that had been vandalized about two weeks ago. The statue is of a police officer holding a child's hand.

The Florissant Police Department did not return calls from St. Louis Public Radio reporters on Sunday evening or Monday. 

Florissant has seen nearly a month of protests outside the city’s police headquarters after a white detective on the force drove his unmarked SUV into a Black man last month. The department fired Joshua Smith, and he was charged with first-degree assault, assault in the fourth degree and armed criminal action. Two other officers in the car will not face any charges or disciplinary action and have returned to work at the department. 

Democratic congressional candidate Cori Bush, who also helped plan Sunday’s protest, said police exaggerated claims that protesters caused property damage and threw water bottles at officers to justify violent tactics. 

“This is not how you should be treating people that are in this community that pay taxes, that live here,” she said. “We are not terrorists. We are the community.”

Bush says the Florissant police need to be held accountable for escalating conflict with nonviolent protesters. 

Organizers said a few protesters went to the hospital with minor injuries.

Separately, another group of protesters gathered Sunday night in front of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s house. The mayor has faced a wave of calls for her resignation after she read the names and addresses of activists during a Facebook live video on June 26.

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Shahla Farzan was a reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. Before becoming a journalist, Shahla spent six years studying native bees, eventually earning her PhD in ecology from the University of California-Davis. Her work for St. Louis Public Radio on drug overdoses in Missouri prisons won a 2020 Regional Edward R. Murrow Award. 
Brian Heffernan is the digital editor and special projects editor at St. Louis Public Radio.
Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.