Armed protesters marched through the Central West End neighborhood on Sunday in a show of force following last week's murder of Ferguson activist Darren Seals
Video footage shows a group of some 20 to 30 people walking along residential streets on their way to the area's bustling business district, chanting "Who killed Darren Seals?" and "Defend black lives." Several people carrying rifles and shotguns openly declared their affiliation with Revolutionary Black Panther Party. Clad in black tactical vests, the heavily armed cadre added chants of "Fuck the pigs" and "Free us — or you die cracka."
A protest leader in Ferguson in 2014, Seals later became known for his criticism of national Black Lives Matter groups and those activists he perceived as having ignored struggling communities like Ferguson in favor of profit and prestige. Last week, Seals' body was discovered in a burning vehicle in Riverview
. He had been fatally shot before being burned. Police are treating the death as a homicide, but investigators have yet to release any new information about their leads.
"We came out here to represent for D Seals," protester Dhoruba Shakur said in a Facebook Live video
. "The man was assassinated by the police, attacked by the state."
Shakur isn't alone in believing that Seals' death was more than just a street killing, and Sunday's protest seemed to straddle the grief, anger and suspicion that continue to swirl around the 29-year-old's death. Last week, as the news sent shockwaves through St. Louis' local protest community, theories sprouted on social media suggesting Seals was killed by police, or that the investigation is being suppressed or otherwise manipulated as a cover-up.
shot by LaShell Eikerenkoetter, protesters can be seen dragging American flags and confronting patrons using the outdoor patio of the Gamlin Whiskey House.
"People are dying, for what? Be sad about that
," Eikerenkoetter says to the gawking brunchers
. "Who killed Darren Seals? Care about that. Y'all mad about a flag, and people are dying."
Later Sunday night, a different protest group — now lacking the Black Panther presence and firearms — showed up in the Delmar Loop. Video shows a smaller crowd entering Mission Taco, where the protesters chanted for about two minutes and left without incident.
But it was different story at Salt + Smoke, the barbecue restaurant in the heart of the Loop. Here, the group entered the restaurant and set about chanting for a couple minutes — only to find University City Police officers were waiting at the exit.
Dhoruba Shakur was arrested, but officers also dragged another person away in handcuffs. That's where things get hazy.
Eikerenkoetter, who was filming the protest on the Loop as well, said in her videos that officers had grabbed not only Shakur but an uninvolved black teenager whose only crime was eating at Salt + Smoke.
A part of the arrest was captured on video, though it doesn't clearly explain why University City officers targeted him. (The arrest footage starts about 30 seconds into the video.)
Distraught over the seemingly random arrest, the protesters made their way to the nearby University City Police Department. On the way, Eikerenkoetter recorded several witness statements
detailing the strange arrest and how the teenager had been slammed against a concrete planter and then roughly placed in a squad car.
At the police station, as the video shows, about a dozen protesters waited for updates on Shakur and the teenager. A few people were allowed into the station to talk with officers, and when they exited someone announced that the police were claiming that the owner of Salt + Smoke had requested the teen's arrest.
(It's not clear whether police actually made that specific claim, or whether something got lost as the conversation was relayed. A message left with University City Police Captain Larry Hampton was not immediately returned.)
However, Tom Schmidt, the owner of Salt + Smoke, tells Riverfront Times
that he ordered no such arrest. He couldn't have, since he was busy at overseeing the restaurant's booth at LouFest. Schmidt returned to the Loop several hours later, around 11 p.m., and he says he debriefed the staff members who had witnessed the ruckus.
In Schmidt's telling, his staff had attempted to prevent the arrest.
"There were maybe twenty people or so in the restaurant that were protesting, so that can get confusing. I think there was a misunderstanding by the police, and [the teen] happened to be walking out while everyone else walking out," Schmidt says. "As soon as the police were getting involved our staff quickly rushed in to say 'No, this gentleman was not at all involved in this.' The woman who was actually the server of that table and the manager were very clear that this gentleman was not involved in this at all, he was just a customer. Nor were we advocating for anyone to be arrested. That was not our goal."
Despite the staff's attempts, though, police still hauled away the teenager. Schmidt says he later spoke with a police representative about the incident.
"The gentleman was released shortly after, from what I understand," he says.
Shakur was also released later Sunday night. In an interview Monday, Shakur said police charged him and the teen with trespassing and peace disturbance.
Shakur says that while he was being arrested, he watched officers approach the teen, who was recording the fracas on his smartphone.
"He was not participating in the protest whatsoever," says Shakur. "He was already in Salt and Smoke and was eating his food. [The police] asked him, 'Were you in there?' and he said, 'Yeah, I was in there.' And they just grab him.'"
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com