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Protesters arrested after blocking Highway 40 include pastor, state rep

Protesters arrested after blocking Highway 40 include pastor, state rep


UPDATED at 7 p.m. with confirmation that Bruce Franks and the Rev. Starsky Wilson were among those arrested and with the charge.

ST. LOUIS • Police took 143 people into custody Tuesday night after a group of protesters blocked the eastbound lanes of Highway 40 (Interstate 64) at Kingshighway and charged them with trespassing.

That's the highest number of arrests at once since protests began Sept. 15 over the not-guilty ruling in the murder case against former city patrolman Jason Stockley.

The roadway Tuesday reopened shortly after 8 p.m., when the demonstrators got off the interstate at the Jefferson Avenue exit. The arrests came as the protesters began marching north on Jefferson Avenue.

Protesters were nearing Market Street when they were met by a police line and they moved onto the sidewalk.

The protesters chanted: “We don’t see a riot here. Why are you in riot gear?” and “Touch one, touch all.”

Police ordered protesters to the ground, then began systematically handcuffing them and packing them into about a dozen police vans.

After the sweep, police did not release any information on the number arrested or the charges, but St. Louis Alderman John Collins-Muhammad said 126 people were taken into custody.

Police spokeswoman Schron Jackson said Wednesday morning that police made 143 arrests. They were charged with trespassing. Police later released names, addresses and charges.

A few dozen protesters whose friends were among the arrested spent the night on the front lawn and sidewalk of the Justice Center on Tuesday night. They set up eight tents. Some had gone on a snack run before sunup. They said they were waiting to help bail friends out, once charges are filed.

Some of those arrested began trickling out of the jail after 8 a.m., one and two at a time. They would walk out a side door and round the corner, to be met with hugs and applause by other protesters who stayed the night outside.

State Rep. Bruce Franks, D-St. Louis, and the Rev. Starsky Wilson were among those arrested.

Franks has been one of the leaders of ongoing protests that have followed the not-guilty verdict last month in the murder trial of Jason Stockley, who was a city patrolman who shot and killed drug suspect Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011, after a high-speed chase. Stockley is white and Smith was black.

Wilson was co-chairman of the Ferguson Commission, which was set up to offer suggestions for how to move forward in the wake of the unrest the followed the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson in 2014.

Steven Hoffmann, a legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild, said he was also among those arrested. In a phone call late Tuesday from the St. Louis Justice Center downtown, Hoffmann said he did not know what charge he might face.

He said he was not part of the protest on the interstate and he questioned why he and others were taken into custody.

He said he was waiting for the protesters on the sidewalk on Jefferson Avenue. He said he never left the sidewalk during his time with them and that all the protesters were on the sidewalk when the arrests were made.

Hoffmann said police closed in at Jefferson and Market and gave the protesters no opportunity to disperse. He said he was “thrown down” by officers when he didn’t immediately comply with their demand to sit on the ground.

He said he saw no one resisting arrest and no use of chemical agents such as pepper spray by police during the arrests.

Two journalists with the Youtube channel The Young Turks were also among those arrested, according to reports on the channel, which has nearly 3.5 million subscribers. Reporter Jordan Chariton and cameraman Ty Bayliss posted a video of their arrest as well as an update from inside the Justice Center where Chariton said people continued protest chants. 

The St. Louis Police Department had warned motorists on Twitter about 7:40 p.m. Tuesday to expect delays on Highway 40. City officers were joined by officers from St. Louis County and the Missouri Highway Patrol.

Traffic was stalled in both directions for several minutes because of the protest and the police response.

Police said the protesters drove their cars onto the interstate at about 7:45 p.m., and that some of them got out and were marching on the roadway. Authorities warned protesters at that time that they would be arrested if they did not leave the interstate, police said.

The protesters chanted, and some carried signs that said “Black Lives Matter.”

Police watched from the Compton overpass as the marchers linked arms and headed east toward Jefferson Avenue, and more officers appeared to be arriving as the march continued.

Kim Bell and Erin Heffernan of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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