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Thursday, December 11, 2014

New Video of MoKaBe's Tear-Gassing Raises Questions About St. Louis Police Tactics

Posted By on Thu, Dec 11, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Occupants of MoKaBe's strapped on gas masks after tear gas seeped into the coffeehouse on November 25. - TWITTER
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  • Occupants of MoKaBe's strapped on gas masks after tear gas seeped into the coffeehouse on November 25.

St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson would prefer that people stop asking him why he tear-gassed MoKaBe's coffeehouse.

"Windows were smashed on both sides of Grand, on both sides of Arsenal, and so MoKabe's was at ground zero," he says, again defending his officers' use of tear gas during the early morning hours of November 25. MoKaBe's sits just west of the intersection of South Grand Boulevard and Arsenal Street in the Tower Grove South neighborhood, where 21 business had windows broken following the non-indictment of former Ferguson officer Darren Wilson.

"The people at MoKaBe's want to create a victim mentality," Dotson continues. "They want to say we're targeting them, and we weren't. If they had followed directions then we wouldn't be having this conversion."

Perhaps. But late last week activists released newly edited video footage showing an armored police vehicle dropping gas canisters directly in front of the cafe. Dotson now confirms that multiple canisters were dropped along Arsenal after his officers determined that every person on the street constituted an "unlawful assembly."

See also: St. Louis Police Chief Says Tear-Gassing of MoKaBe's Was Unintentional

Dotson says the armored vehicle was driving along South Grand, between Arsenal and Juanita Street two blocks south, while officers continued to order pedestrians to leave the area.

"When they would drive along, every couple of feet, or every block, depending on what their approach was, they would drop one of those [gas canisters] out the windows, and the whole point is to make the crowd disperse."

As Daily RFT reported last week, dozens of protesters camped out in MoKaBe's that night after spending hours marching and engaging in civil disobedience. Some had participated in a brief shutdown of Interstate 44 one mile north, while others had just returned from the chaos in Ferguson, where looting and arson had overtaken the peaceful protests. Mo Costello, MoKaBe's owner, was on-site as well.

Also present in the neighborhood that night was John Ziegler, better known by his Twitter and livestreamer handle, "Rebelutionary_Z," who captured more than four hours of raw footage of police and protester activities on South Grand. Some of that footage was recently edited into time-stamped clips (as well as one longer video, embedded below) that focus on what happened at MoKaBe's.

See also: MoKaBe's Slammed By CopTalk Message Board for Serving as "Safe Space" for Protesters

The video begins around 1 a.m., when Ziegler was walking on South Grand. The camera rests on the billowing clouds of tear gas, and moments later he encounters an armored police van, which begins to audibly fire projectiles. Ziegler can be heard saying "They're firing rubber bullets at me."

The perspective then jumps to MoKaBe's, where people can be seen recovering from the exposure to the gas that seeped into the building minutes before. After moving to the sealed basement, Ziegler overhears a woman describing how those who tried to escape through the cafe's back exit had also encountered tear gas.

The crucial moment comes when Ziegler, after going outside to catch his breath, sees an armored police van driving north on South Grand and making a left onto Arsenal, directly in front of MoKaBe's.

Over a loudspeaker, officers can be heard commanding the crowd to "please disperse, please clear the area." Shortly afterward, the van starts dropping tear gas canisters. Here's a clip of that frenzied few seconds, which is time-stamped 1:19 a.m.

The videos appear to conflict with what Dotson told Daily RFT last week, when he insisted that, "There was never any gas specifically directed toward MoKaBe's, the business [or] the people on the patio."

Dotson disagrees with that interpretation. He maintains that he did not misrepresent the events at MoKaBe's when he spoke to Daily RFT.

"I don't see that as targeting," he says of the video. "When people don't leave the area, technically that's a crime. It's called an unlawful assembly, and when the vehicle comes around the corner, you hear it tell people to go home."

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