Friday, February 3, 2017

Accused of Plowing Through Protesters, St. Louis Couple Seeks to Clear Their Names

Posted By on Fri, Feb 3, 2017 at 6:50 AM

click to enlarge VANESSA NORTH
  • VANESSA NORTH
Passions were running high last Saturday. The day before, Donald Trump had issued an executive order cracking down on immigration. Protests followed, filling airports and city streets.

On Saturday, a pro-immigration protest was hastily organized in downtown St. Louis. Lindsey Teall and Jake Night, two performers who live in the neighborhood, didn't even know it was happening until they almost drove right into it. Now they say that chance encounter has turned into a nightmare — both in the moment and later, online.

That day, Teall and Night were heading back to their residence on Washington Avenue. Teall was at the wheel; her nine-year-old son and their two younger daughters were in the back. Turning onto Chestnut, they realized they'd turned into an area where protesters were gathered, but they couldn't tell if the marchers were intending to go down Tucker, or Chestnut.

Before they could figure out their next move, Night says, their jeep was surrounded. "People were hitting the car," he says, and shouting things.

Worried about their kids in the back, Night climbed out started walking around the jeep, trying to get Teall the clearance she needed to drive away. "They wouldn't let us go," he says. "They were getting violent, yelling threats like they were going to come kick my ass." With Teall continuing to inch forward, they say, they finally escaped the scene.

Shaken, they called the cops almost immediately. The officer told them that so long as everything was as they'd described it, there was no need for a formal report. On a later call, an officer told them a colleague had reviewed security footage of the incident. "You guys did nothing wrong," he told them. "Everything's fine. I don't see this going any farther." (The couple provided the RFT with a recording of the conversation.)

In cyberspace, however, trouble was brewing.

That Saturday evening, a man who had been at the protest posted a photo of Night on Facebook, along with this commentary: "This man drove his jeep through a crowd of demonstrators (among whom were a few children) in St. Louis. Any help identifying him would be appreciated."

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The post quickly garnered more than 400 shares — and, this being St. Louis, people pretty quickly figured out Night's identity. Threats quickly followed.

Teall says they quickly reported the post to Facebook, but that did nothing. And the vitriol just seemed to be growing. People called them ugly and disgusting, douches and assholes. "Jail is too lenient a sentence," one man posted. When someone defended them in the comments, a different commenter posted that guy's address and phone number. Teall and Night themselves jumped in to try to explain themselves, but it wasn't helping. Someone dug up an old Facebook post where Teall had complained about a different protest disturbing her kids' sleep and used it to suggest she'd been "violent" towards protesters in the past.

And then, suddenly, the post came down. They're still not sure if the man who originally posted the photo deleted it, or if Facebook took action. (The man, who lives in St. Louis, did not respond to a request for an interview.)

Night and Teall say they just want people to know the truth. To them, that is this, basically: They didn't hit anyone — and certainly didn't attempt to do so. They just found themselves in a scary, confusing situation and did what they could to get home.

"It's not everybody; it's just this one small group of people who wanted to cause a riotous type of situation," Teall says. "I'm totally for peaceful protest. But when you're there, and people have surrounding you — what happened was totally out of hand."

They want to put the situation behind them, but they feel rattled. A few days ago, Night was walking with their daughter and noticed she was on edge. He says, "Every person we passed by, she'd ask, 'Is that one of the bad people?'"

They note that protests happen with frequency in their neighborhood. They're OK with that. But when they happen too quickly to allow notice, confusion is inevitable. "We were just trying to get our family home," Teall says.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com


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