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14 arrested as unions, Occupy St. Louis protestors unite

14 arrested as unions, Occupy St. Louis protestors unite

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ST. LOUIS • A coalition of Occupy St. Louis protesters, including a handful of area labor leaders, were arrested Thursday after blocking the eastbound entrance to the Martin Luther King Bridge.

St. Louis police said 14 people were taken into custody.

The local acts of civil disobedience were part of a day of protests across the nation stemming from the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The arrests here were peaceful, with several protesters engaging authorities in playful banter as the protesters were escorted in plastic handcuffs to nearby police vans.

The action at the bridge ended a march that began with a 3 p.m. rally at Kiener Plaza.

About 800 people, bolstered by representatives of the Teamsters, United Auto Workers, Service Employees International and other unions, participated in the rally and the subsequent march north through downtown.

The demonstrations continued Thursday night, with a group of about 50 protesters marching down the middle of Market Street from the city government area to Kiener Plaza, the local protest's home base and where 27 members were arrested last week after refusing to obey the park curfew.

Marchers carried a tent and planted it in the middle of the plaza, only to remove it under police command. There were no more arrests. Protesters also unfurled two large banners off the top of the former Municipal Courts building next to City Hall that read "Occupy" and "Everything."

During the afternoon and evening demonstrations, protesters chanted familiar Occupy themes, such as, "This is what democracy looks like," "The banks got bailed out, we got sold out" and, "We are the 99 percent!"

About 60 uniformed St. Louis police officers awaited the marchers as they approached the bridge.

Fourteen of the protesters purposefully sat down directly in front of the officers and were given 30 seconds to stand and return to the marchers chanting behind them.

When they refused, the plastic handcuffs came out. Within two minutes, all 14 were in custody.

Thursday's protest united the sometimes scruffy contingent that occupied Kiener Plaza for over a month until their eviction last weekend with veteran union members.

It was union carpenter Ben Samuels' first organized protest.

"We had to be a part of this because it's about putting people back to work," said Samuels, who has worked only sporadically the past three years.

Marvin Kopp, the president of Teamsters Joint Council 13, called the gathering "kind of a crazy alliance. … But everyone here is for the same purpose — we need jobs."

Longtime activist Percy Green wandered among the protesters. During construction of the Gateway Arch nearly 50 years ago, Green famously climbed one of its legs to protest the lack of minority participation in the landmark's construction.

On Thursday, with the Arch glimmering in the background, Green, 76, exalted in the renaissance of dissent.

"It's about bringing pressure to make the establishment uncomfortable, and we have to sustain it," he said. "This really is what democracy looks like, black and white together."

Patrick M. O'Connell of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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