St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, who helped oversee last month’s aggressive response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri, said Monday that communications failures led police to lock up peaceful citizens during daytime hours.
Belmar testified in federal court about the so-called five-second rule that police in Ferguson allowed protesters before enforcing Missouri’s law against refusing to disperse. Though the statute only applies to individuals who refuse a police order to leave an “unlawful assembly, or at the scene of a riot,” police in Ferguson repeatedly demanded crowds disperse during protests last month of a police officer’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown, 18, who was unarmed.
Police applied the rule to everyone, from protesters and journalists, to children and a 73-year-old woman. Even during daylight hours, officers arrested people who stopped moving for a few seconds, and threatened those who didn’t keep in motion. The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri is suing both St. Louis County and the Missouri State Highway Patrol over the enforcement of the law on behalf of protesters, seeking an injunction forbidding police from arresting protesters who are standing still.
Belmar testified that the five-second rule was only supposed to be applied at night. Yet the rule was enforced during daylight. Even a news photographer was arrested during a peaceful daytime protest, apparently because he stopped on the sidewalk to take photos and wasn’t inside the designated media area.