A group of Jefferson City residents has sent a letter to city leaders expressing their concern about the Jefferson City Police Department's response to a recent protest in the downtown area, as another event is planned in Jefferson City today.
Last Thursday, eight people among a group protesting Gov. Mike Parson's legislative agenda for the special session were arrested for unlawful assembly and resisting or interfering with an arrest.
The local residents sent their letter Tuesday with 163 signatures. The group said they feel it is "unwarranted for officers in full riot gear to confront non-violent protesters engaging in civil disobedience, as well as aggressively charging demonstrators, and indiscriminate shooting of pepper balls at close range."
Officers responded last Thursday to the area of 100 E. High St. in front of the Governor's Mansion "for a group of subjects walking in the roadway," according to JCPD reports.
"Information obtained indicated a group of protesters were leaving the Capitol grounds and walking eastbound on High Street," JCPD spokesman Lt. David Williams said. "Commanders attempted to contact one of the organizers in an attempt to mediate the crowd.
"At approximately 1 p.m., multiple participants began blocking the roadway at Jefferson Street and Capitol Avenue to traffic," Williams continued. "Responding officers gave participants directions to disperse and clear the roadway. The entire intersection was being blocked by participants including some lying in the roadway.
"After multiple commands were given to the participants, the order to clear the roadway was given," Williams said. "The participants blocked the roadway at three different locations prior to an arrest being made."
Williams confirmed JCPD officers used pepper balls at one point to disperse protesters.
An event scheduled today by the same group, ExpectUs, is called "The People's State of the State." The group announced in a tweet Wednesday that protesters would gather in Jefferson City and at an event in St. Louis today.
The group has been protesting the governor's agenda for the special legislative session underway to address violent crime, especially violent crime in Missouri's largest cities.
ExpectUS noted in its post that the governor's "'fix' for crime will only criminalize our community further. (Parson) is intentionally ignoring the root issues of crime. Instead of feeding into mass incarceration, Mike Parson should be focused on mental health, getting resources to our community and listening to the voices of the people."
The News Tribune was unable to reach a representative of ExpectUS for comment Wednesday.
JCPD Chief Roger Schroeder told the News Tribune on Wednesday: "Democracy is the greatest form of governing in the history of the world. They certainly have the right to disagree and express that disagreement. There's a considerable amount of misinformation floating around, but I respect the rights of those who have chosen to take their stated position.
"I am very much aware of how the events unfolded and what actually transpired, and I fully support what our officers did and the manner in which they fulfilled their duties," Schroeder continued. "I also wish to express appreciation to the many citizens who have very overtly indicated their support for our personnel."
Schroeder said he is aware the group plans to return to the city and said he was not aware of any parade permit sought by organizers.
"We reached out to the leadership of 'Expect Us' on Monday with all the information they would need to apply for a permit (how, where, cited law, phone number for assistance, etc.), and as of Wednesday we've heard nothing," Schroeder said.
The 163 local residents who signed the letter are asking JCPD to take steps in future protests to de-escalate the situation rather than use what they call "aggressive tactics," calling on the Police Department to take a restrained approach with future demonstrators.
The letter requests a meeting with Schroeder, Mayor Carrie Tergin, City Administrator Steve Crowell and Jefferson City Council Public Safety Committee Chairman Carlos Graham to discuss the concerns.
"People take to the streets with their message when they are dismissed, disregarded and ignored by their representatives," said Jan Schumacher, a spokesperson for the group. "As the state capital, Jefferson City should be respectful of the freedom of speech of demonstrators who come to express their views, even if they are participating in non-violent acts of civil disobedience."
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Mayor Tergin told the News Tribune on Wednesday she had confidence in the way the Police Department had handled the situation.
"I have reached out to Ms. Schumacher and welcome the opportunity to inform and address any of their concerns," Tergin said.
Cole County Prosecutor Locke Thompson on Wednesday charged the eight protesters arrested last Thursday with misdemeanor crimes.
Elijah Foggy, Eva Cloud, Sarah Butler and Alexander Goode, all from the St. Louis area, were charged with misdemeanor interfering with an arrest and peace disturbance.
Lashell Eikerenkoetter, Abigail Holland and Krutie Thakkar, all from the St. Louis area, were charged with peace disturbance.
Sabrina Ridenhour, of Jefferson City, was charged with interfering with an arrest and peace disturbance.