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Protesters arrested on Hanley Road, but police prevent shutdown of I-70

Protesters arrested on Hanley Road, but police prevent shutdown of I-70

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UPDATED at 7:45 p.m. with number of arrests. 

ST. LOUIS COUNTY • Protesters intent on shutting down Interstate 70 Wednesday afternoon as part of their calls for justice in the Michael Brown shooting case were met by a large contingent of law enforcement intent on stopping them.

Missouri State Highway Patrol spokesman Al Nothum said there were 32 arrests for unlawful assembly and four arrests for assaults on law enforcement officers. 

There were no injuries.

Nothum said police were pelted with bricks, rocks, concrete chunks, filled water bottles and glass bottles during the nearly three-hour stand-off with demonstrators.

As protesters began to gather before 3 p.m., a large police presence parked along I-70 near North Hanley Road. Protesters who tried to hang signs on overpasses or spell out their demands on a chain link fence with plastic cups were told they could not do so.

By 3:15, a group of about 125 protesters began to line up, saying they would to block the interstate. Police closed Hanley Road to traffic, and shut down the ramp from eastbound I-70 to Hanley. Organizers said the shutdown was to protest Gov. Jay Nixon’s refusal to appoint a special prosecutor to review the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of Brown, 18, by Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson. 

"We're getting ready to go to jail," one protester said.

Police formed a line along North Hanley. "Do not block traffic on ramp to Interstate 70 or you will be arrested," a state trooper announced on a public address system. Police tried to keep the demonstrators on sidewalks along Hanley. Protesters who stood or sat in the road and refused to move were arrested one-by-one in orderly fashion by police with zip ties.

At one point, there was a skirmish as someone threw a brick at St. Louis County police officers. Someone else threw a bottle, then outran police who tried to capture him.

Shortly after 4 p.m., Eric Vickers, a St. Louis lawyer involved in planning the blockade, said protesters were leaving to go to the Ferguson City Jail. He declared the protest a success though the interstate wasn't shut down, and vowed it will be sometime soon.

"They are not going to allow us to get on the highway as we planned," Vickers said. "But we did tie them up for a few hours."

Many of the protesters left, but some remained and a large police presence stuck around as well.

"I guess we'll just tie up police for another couple hours," Vickers said.

Meanwhile, some motorists reportedly stopped their cars on Highway 40 (Interstate 64) between Kingshighway and Hampton Avenue Wednesday afternoon and got out in an apparent protest. St. Louis police said they got calls about the stopped cars, but said they were gone when police arrived.

Wednesday’s blockade was intended to emulate that of a protest in July 1999 when about 300 protesters shut down I-70m saying there were not enough black contractors and workers on road projects. Vickers also helped organize that protest.

An I-70 highway blockade planned for Sept. 1 was postponed, though a few protesters briefly stopped traffic that day along Interstate 270 and at three spots along I-70. The original plan was for drivers to stop and block traffic for 4½ minutes to symbolize the several hours some say Brown’s body lay in the street after he was fatally shot in the Canfield Green apartment complex.

Protest coordinators dashed plans for action at the request of Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr.

The demonstration was supposed to be peaceful and was aimed at protesting police brutality and encouraging voter registration, community engagement and the creation of civilian review boards to monitor police. Vickers said participants would exercise their constitutional rights to protest and are prepared to be arrested for impeding traffic.

“We are taking this direct action on the 10th because we are using the means of civil disobedience that Dr. Martin Luther King used to effect change,” Vickers said in news conference Monday outside the St. Louis County Justice Center. “It is going to cause people some discomfort. It is going to cause inconvenience to people. That is a small price to pay to change the conditions of African-American youth, and it’s a very small price to pay to bring justice to Michael Brown.”

On Tuesday, authorities said they would be ready for the protest.

“There is a plan,” said St. Louis County police Officer Brian Schellman. “We’re not going to discuss what the plan is, but we’re going to have a presence.”

Highway Patrol Sgt. Al Nothum also declined to discuss the patrol’s strategies for Wednesday but said troopers will “enforce the laws in Missouri” to keep traffic moving on the interstate.

Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, who led the patrol’s efforts to maintain security on Ferguson’s streets during protests last month, said in a news release Tuesday that the planned blockade is “unsafe and unacceptable.”

Steve Giegerich and Stephen Deere of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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