All seventeen protesters arrested at the QuikTrip gas station near the Shaw neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri were released early Sunday evening around 5:30pm. Some had been subjected to explicitly racist abuse by officers, first at the South Patrol police station and later at St. Louis Justice Center, where they were transferred.
Police forced a female Muslim protester to remove her head covering before entering the jail cell at both stations, according to Zena Ozeir, who was among those arrested.
Ozeir traveled to St. Louis from Detroit to participate in the Palestine contigent for the “weekend of resistance” in solidarity with Ferguson.
“She was in an all women’s cell but it was totally exposed to all of the [South Patrol] police station,” Ozeir said of the woman. Ozeir added that after negotiating with an officer, the woman was eventually allowed to wear the hood on her sweatshirt in lieu of her head covering. Because the South Patrol police station held on to the protesters’ possessions, the woman was left without a head covering or hijab for the remainder of her incarceration.
Ozeir dealt with her share of abuse as well.
After spending the night at a nearby police station, she and other protesters were transferred to the St. Louis Justice Center, where Ozeir says she was subjected to Islamophobic vitriol from an officer.
As she waited in line to be processed at the Justice Center, Ozeir recalls an officer asking her, “Were you born in this country?”
“Yes I was born in this country,” she replied.
“You know, you can’t do this stuff in Islamic countries,” he fired back, according to her account.
“What kind of stuff?” she responded.
“You can’t protest in those countries without getting shot,” Ozeir said the officer responded.
“People get shot in this country for doing that here all the time as well. I don’t know what Islamic countries you’re talking about but there are protests there frequently. I can name you some,” Ozeir told the officer.
“All these countries you’re talking about get a lot of money from America, so they’re influenced by America,” Ozeir recalls the officer saying. Ozeir was then taken away for a health screening, bringing the exchange to an end.
In the early morning hours of Sunday, 12 October, seventeen people were arrested during a sit-in outside a St. Louis, Missouri gas station to protest the recent police killing of yet another Black teen.
One of those arrested was Zena Ozeir, a 23-year-old Lebanese-American activist from Detroit who is part of the Palestine contingent protesting police violence in St. Louis this weekend.
Vonderrit Myers, 18, was gunned down by a white off-duty St. Louis city police officer last week. This latest slaying ignited more protests in a city still reeling from the August execution-style killing of Michael Brown, a Black teenager, at the hands of Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in the St. Louis County municipality of Ferguson.
Police claim that Myers was armed and fired first, prompting the officer, who has yet to be named, to fire seventeen bullets in return, killing him.
Myers’ friends and family vehemently deny the police narrative, insisting the teen was armed with nothing more than a sandwich.
Protesters have marched every night since Myers was killed, demanding justice, dignity and an end to the police violence in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Almost every protest has been met with squads of riot police using mace (hand-held aerosols of tear gas) — something this writer witnessed in person.
Last night’s march, which ended in a sit-in outside the QuikTrip gas station at the intersection of Vandeventer Avenue and Chouteau Avenue (near the Shaw neighborhood where Myers was killed), was quickly declared an “unlawful assembly” by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, resulting in the arrest of seventeen protesters.
Using language reminiscent of the rhetoric Israeli occupation forces use to justify their brutality against Palestinians, St. Louis city police chief Sam Dotson took to Twitter to justify the arrests, saying, “Protestors now throwing rocks at the police. Arrests have been made for continued illegal behavior.”
Israeli police and soldiers routinely justify mass arrests, night raids, torture and other abuses of Palestinians, including children, with accusations of rock-throwing, as was the case with Palestinian-American teen Tariq Abukhdeir over the summer.
Beilal Chatila, a 23-year-old Lebanese-American who participated in the QuikTrip sit-in, disputes Dotson’s claim, telling The Electronic Intifada that there was “absolutely no rock-throwing whatsoever.”
Chatila traveled to St. Louis from Detroit with his friend Zena Ozeir to join thousands of others from around the country for Ferguson’s “weekend of resistance” to demand justice for Michael Brown and an end to racism and police violence.
Chatila and Ozeir are part of the Palestine contingent, a group of activists and organizations who answered the call for solidarity with Ferguson, noting the collaboration between the Israeli security apparatus and US law enforcement agencies, many of which receive training in Israel, including at least two police agencies in St. Louis.
Chatila says that Ozeir was among those arrested last night.
“We were sitting in front of [the QuikTrip]. The police told us to move. We didn’t. We were the last seven to ten people sitting down. Then they told us, ‘This is the last warning.’ So we got up,” recounted Chatila.
As the last few protesters were walking away, Chatila says a police officer put his hand between him and Ozeir, creating an imaginary line. Those on Ozeir’s side of the imaginary line were told they would be arrested and sent to jail. And they were.
“I was holding Zena’s hand, so [the police officer] thought we were together. It seems like he did it intentionally to break us up,” said Chatila.
Next, the police harassment devolved into baton beatings and mace.
As the protesters who were not arrested began to leave the scene, the officers “started poking us very aggressively with their batons,” Chatila said.
“Then the officer hit me in my shoulder and maced the kid in front of me. They hit him with a baton, he turned around and they maced him. I got a little mace in my eyes, but the kid in front of me got it really bad.”
“Last night during the protest, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department made seventeen arrests for Unlawful Assembly on the parking lot of QuikTrip, 904 S. Vandeventer,” Schron Y. Jackson of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s Public Information Division told The Electronic Intifada in an emailed statement. “There were no reports of injuries or property damage.”
The names of those arrested have yet to be disclosed, but local attorneys are working on securing their release.