Ferguson protesters released as St. Louis County police takes over command

Ferguson protesters leave arm-in-arm from the St. Ann Police Department after being released from jail on Friday, Oct. 3, 2014. Protesters have been a constant presence in the St. Louis suburb in the nearly two months since Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Robert Cohen)

A federal judge has issued an injunction barring law enforcement agencies in Ferguson, Mo. from requiring protestors to walk rather than stand still in one location.

The preliminary injunction came in a lawsuit against St. Louis County and the Superintendent of the Missouri Highway Patrol brought by Mustafa Abdullah, a program associate for the ACLU who was working to ensure that protestors in Ferguson were aware of their constitutional rights.

According to the ruling, issued by United States District Judge Catherine Perry of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, law enforcement officials decided on Aug.18 that protesters would no longer be allowed to gather in one place, but would be required to protest while marching. Witnesses for the police agencies testified that this strategy was decided upon by “top officials of the Highway Patrol, St. Louis County Police, and St. Louis City Police.”

In making their decision, the law enforcement agencies cited Missouri’s “Refusal to Disperse” statute, which states that “ person commits the crime of refusal to disperse if, being present at the scene of an unlawful assembly, or at the scene of a riot, he knowingly fails or refuses to obey the lawful command of a law enforcement officer to depart from the scene of such unlawful assembly or riot,” according to the text of the decision.

Abdullah was present in Ferguson to hand out information cards to protesters detailing their rights, as well as acting as a legal observer for the ACLU, speaking to demonstrators about their concerns. After the law enforcement handed down their decision, Abdullah was no longer able to stand and speak to protesters, and was required to move or risk arrest.

Judge Perry found that Missouri’s “refusal to disperse” statute did not grant police the authority to force peaceful protesters to walk while protesting, and that Abdullah had satisfied the requirements for a preliminary injunction against the practice, showing that his claim was likely to prevail on the legal merits of the case. Perry found that the factual record established so far indicated that police actions in Ferguson violated Abdullah and the protesters’ due process and First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.


ralejandro@afro.com