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Protest leaders: We’re not going away, in spite of arrests

ST. LOUIS – The arrest of a clergyman who was taken to the ground and subdued with pepper spray is the latest incident in which police have been responsible for “unnecessary and dangerous violence” against demonstrators, St. Louis protest leaders said Monday.

About 20 faith leaders and other protest organizers gathered at Wayman AME Church to pledge that law-abiding but disruptive demonstrations will continue. They also alleged that police have too often become violent with protesters.

The Rev. Darryl Gray of the Missouri Baptist State Convention was arrested Friday night. The protest was among many since a judge last month acquitted former police officer Jason Stockley in the death of a black man.

Police spokeswoman Schron Jackson said Gray was among three people arrested Friday. She defended the action taken by officers.

“Officers deploy tactics when criminal activity arises and escalation depends on the level of aggression,” Jackson said in an email. “Pepper spray is a non-lethal tool used when unlawful behavior occurs to protect life and property.”

Jackson said a stun gun was used on one protester who resisted arrest.

Several protesters marched to Busch Stadium Friday night – some even unfurled a banner inside the ballpark that read, “Stop Killing Us.”

Later, the demonstrators were in the street when police suddenly began allowing traffic to pass through, said the Rev. Erin Counihan, a white Presbyterian minister. She said she raised concern to officers who responded by grabbing her.

Gray, who is black, intervened on Counihan’s behalf and was taken to the ground forcefully, pepper-sprayed, and arrested, Counihan said. Others were also doused with pepper spray, including Heather De Mian, a wheelchair-bound videographer who frequently live-streams at protests. Neither Counihan nor De Mian were arrested.

“As citizens of this wonderful city we have stood together in public to raise our voices to express concerns for the safety of our black and brown family, and the police have continued to react and respond with completely unnecessary and dangerous violence,” Counihan said.

Gray, 63, faces a municipal charge of interfering with an officer, defended his actions.

“They (police) had no call to put their hands on her at all,” Gray said. “Everything was non-violent.”

Protest leaders say the demonstrations will continue indefinitely, even though nearly 200 people have been arrested since the Sept. 15 ruling. The ACLU of Missouri filed suit over the way police rounded up and arrested about 120 people after an unruly demonstration on Sept. 17. Those arrested included journalists and bystanders.

Police have defended their actions, saying the arrests have been the result of protests getting out of hand. They note that nearly three dozen officers have been injured as protesters have thrown bricks and rocks at police and, in a couple of instances, sprayed them with unknown materials.

But complaints about the arrests have prompted an internal investigation. Meanwhle, both Krewson and Interim Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole last week called on the U.S. Attorney’s office to conduct an independent investigation.