More than a hundred protesters attempted to enter St. Louis City Hall Wednesday, but were not allowed through the doors. After they were denied entry, they crowded in front of the entrance, chanting “Let us in,” and “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?”
Police in riot gear quickly responded in force, telling everyone to leave because it was an “unlawful assembly.”
St. Louis Metropolitan Police Capt.Dan Howard said the protest became unlawful when someone “made contact” with a security guard.
“They forced their way past a marked guard and made contact on them. As soon as that assault takes place it is an unlawful assembly,” Howard explained. “We were giving them all the leeway they needed until they made contact. Then it becomes assault.”
Protest leader Rasheen Aldridge had a different view of events. He said he didn’t see anyone touch the guard, but that protesters did try and keep the door to the building open.
“We made sure that we held it open at least to have our voices be heard to send a message to all the elected officials in city hall,” Aldridge said, adding that they should be able to get inside because it is a public building.
“We should be able to go in there and peacefully protest if we want. It doesn’t make any sense. It ain’t right that they shut us down,” he said.
Aldridge was recently chosen to be part of the Ferguson Commission, a group selected by Gov. Jay Nixon to make recommendations for regional change in response to issues raised in the wake of the death of Michael Brown.
Maggie Crane, a spokesperson for Mayor Francis Slay, said that the protesters were denied entry at the recommendation of police because there was an “edginess to the crowd” and because there were rumors that someone in the group had spray paint.
Back in October protesters were allowed inside city hall, but Crane said they had made prior arrangements with the mayor’s office and followed procedure by going through the metal detectors.
After several warnings, most of the crowd moved off the steps of the south entrance to the building. However, three people were arrested. According to a tweet from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police all three were charged with failure to disperse. One of the three was also charged with third degree assault on a law enforcement officer.
Wednesday marked the second day in a row demonstrators gathered at Kiener Plaza in downtown St. Louis to protest the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the death of Brown.
Before heading to city hall, the crowd marched through the streets to the Old Courthouse, where they held a mock trial of officials and police. During the first phase of the demonstration, police followed at a distance, blocking traffic to let marchers pass as needed.
But once the crowd left city hall and began organizing for further marching in the streets, police approached the crowd and told them to disperse or they would use “chemical agents.”
At that point the crowd was near Kiener Plaza once more, so they regrouped at the plaza. Protest leaders gave a few closing remarks and led everyone in a few last chants there, with the majority dispersing before 1 p.m.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille