Subscribe for 99¢
Antonio French Thumbnail

St. Louis Alderman Antonio French emerged Thursday morning from a night in jail after his arrest at the Ferguson protests to say that the police officers' "heavy-handed" approach on the streets is making the situation worse.

French said police pulled him from his car Wednesday night and arrested him. Police say he didn't listen to their orders to disperse. Police gave him no documentation that says why he was arrested. He was released about 7 a.m. today without having to post any bail.

French said he should never have been locked up, nor should the dozen or so others at the jail overnight.

"Inside that jail is nothing but peacekeepers," he said. "They rounded up the wrong people ... reverends, young people organizing the peace effort."

Police arrested about a dozen people Wednesday night, including French and Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly.

Police used tear gas and sonic cannons to disperse the crowds. Today, President Obama will mention the Ferguson troubles in a speech. Also today, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is scheduled to visit Ferguson in the wake of the growing protests.

"The worsening situation in Ferguson is deeply troubling, and does not represent who we are as Missourians or as Americans,” Nixon said in a statement.

As French walked out of the Ferguson Jail this morning, he wore his signature oxford button-down shirt -- slightly wrinkled from sleeping in it on a jail cot, and with a burnt orange color on the shoulder from where a fellow inmate had wiped his eyes from the burning tear gas.

French talked with reporters about his experience. He said he was near the burned-out QuikTrip on West Florissant Avenue at about 9 p.m. Wednesday when police in riot gear ordered protesters to disperse. Several hundred people were there.

"Police had just given a final warning to disperse and released smoke bombs, people scattered and ran," French said. "Police started to move forward with riot gear and tear gas started to come."

"I moved away when it looked like they were throwing what I thought was tear gas ... it turned out to be smoke bombs," French added. "I realized the best place (to be was in my) car with the windows rolled up. That's where I was."

He said he was in car recording video of what was happening outside. When the line of police officers came to French's car door, an officer opened the door and pulled him out, French said. French asked why, and the officer told him, "Because you didn't listen."

When a reporter asked French today how he went from being in his car to being arrested, he said: "They open your door and drag you out."

"They just rounded up anybody they could see," he said.

He had no complaints about the way the officer treated him, other than how securely the officer wrapped his wrist with the plastic handcuffs.

"I don't think I was mistreated," he said. "The roughest things were those zip ties ... pretty tight."

He said he was treated well inside the jail and offered a honey bun at 6 a.m. for breakfast, which he declined. He was told he'd be held 24 hours on a charge of unlawful assembly, but then he was inexplicably released without bail or any paperwork at 7 a.m.

French is in his first term as alderman of the 21st Ward in St. Louis. His ward includes the Mark Twain, Penrose and O'Fallon neighborhoods. After the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson on Saturday afternoon, French has been attending protests and rallies, posting updates on social media.

French said he will continue to document the protests and police response as long as the protesters are on the streets. He wasn't able to post anything for the nine hours he was in jail because they took his phone from him. At 8 a.m., French said he was ready to log back in. "I've gotta find a charger somewhere," he joked.

He said he was also heading to an ATM to get cash to bail out two of his staffers who were arrested after being pulled from their cars. Police told his staffers, two women, that they were arrested for a noise violation, French said.

"In an American city, people are being tear-gassed and snipers are pointing rifles at them," he said. "Everybody should be upset ... heavy-handed police approach is actually making the situation worse.

"Before they arrived heavy-handedly, it was a peaceful situation."

French said the city is wrong to try to limit protests to daylight-only.

"We have a right to protest 24 hours a day," French said. "Our constitutional rights don't expire at 9 p.m."

 

3 O'Clock Stir e-newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Kim Bell is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.